Student Competitions

Social Innovation Solutions Challenge

The Social Innovation Solutions Challenge is a competition for graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University who are interested in applying social innovations to some of the world’s biggest problems relating to basic human needs. Sponsored by Idea Foundry and organized by CMU's Institute for Social Innovation and Project Olympus, the competition features teams of students from across the University competing for cash prizes.

The 2011 competition attracted 8 teams of masters and PhD students, from across campus, including 20 students from Heinz—13 PPM, 6 IT, 1 MAM, 4 CIT— engineering students from CEE and EPP , and 9 SCS from Language Technologies and Computational Biology. The teams were organized by geography (Africa, India, Latin America, US inner city and China) and had to develop ideas for new products that addressed basic human needs such as food, education, healthcare, water and shelter. 5 teams were selected to present at the final judging round.

First prize winners for $1,000 were: Meghana Kshirsagar (SCS, LTI), Mayank Mittal (Heinz, IS), and Collin Siu (Heinz, PPM) with their idea for a mobile food processing truck in India powered by solar energy.

Second prize winners for $500 were: Yu Fan (CIT, CEE & EPP), Enes Hosgor (CIT, EPP), Anna Kasunic (Heinz, PPM), and Chang Liu (CIT, CEE & EPP) with their idea for pipe robots to detect water leakages in Northern China.

Third prize winners for $250 were: Mercedes Biggs (Heinz, PPM), Weiru Shi (Heinz, PPM), Christopher Vu ((Heinz, MEIM), Wei Wei (SCS), and Jonathan Yee (Heinz, PPM) with their idea to use the common language, Esperanto, to overcome the challenge of Hispanic children in US inner cities who need to learn English.

Check back soon for more updates, photos and videos from the inaugural 2011 challenge.

Social Innovation Solutions Challenge 2011 Photo Gallery

Highpoint Park Case Competition

The U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh is not only the city’s tallest building; it also has the largest and highest roof in the world. While many people would assume that the tower has reached its full potential, students from Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College recently helped design an even more extraordinary future for this building’s triangular rooftop.

The High Point Park competition recently challenged students to theoretically transform this one-acre roof. The competition was led by David Bear, a fellow with CMU’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.
Bear was eager to share his vision with students so they could build upon it.

"This rooftop venue could be a beacon for the progressive transformation the city has endured in the last few decades from a steel town to an innovative center for technology, art, education and green initiatives," said Bear.

Students from CMU’s School of Architecture submitted creative and sustainable design proposals for the first phase of the competition. The best entries were then selected and used in the second part of the competition — a case challenge aimed at analyzing the practical potential of each design. Teams of students from the Heinz College’s Institute for Social Innovatio (ISI) and CMU’s Tepper School of Business were given five days to take the sketches and develop a business plan based on the “triple bottom line” in order to maximize profits and benefits for people and the planet.


Independently produced by Len Caric, this 30-minute video documents a January 2010 Sketch Design/Case Competition in which students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture and the Institute for Social Innovation at Heinz College proposed ways to transform the one-acre rooftop of the U. S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh into a green and publicly accessible facility. The project was part of the High Point Park Investigation, an inquiry led by David Bear as a fellow at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon.

The first-place proposal was developed by a cross-disciplinary team of students who envisioned a business plan tailor-made for Pittsburgh. The winning design, entitled Vertical Crawl, imagined the roof as a new addition to Carnegie Museums. Their design included cutting-edge steel technologies, a habitat for local urban falcons, restaurant partnerships with institutions such as Primanti Brothers, and collaboration with local tourism companies such as Just Ducky Tours. Finally, the team developed a plan for the project’s economic sustainability, complete with financial statements and economic forecasts. Other innovative ideas for the roof included a dome equipped with a solar powered LED grid that would shield a high-altitude ice skating rink.

Babs Carryer, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at CMU’s Heinz College and the Tepper School of Business, and one of the competition organizers, noted that CMU is the perfect place to tackle complex challenges like the High Point Park case.

"Carnegie Mellon is known for fostering a collaborative environment," said Carryer. "It’s one of the few institutions that could bring together students with the diverse skills that this project required."

Carryer is also the innovation advisor for the ISI.

Students also benefitted from the synergies created by collaboration among interdisciplinary teams. Abhay Doshi (MISM ‘10), a Heinz College student who worked on the first-place team, relished the opportunity to partner with students from the School of Architecture.

“The architects are a different breed, and I'm sure they must feel the same about us,” said Doshi. “But, this is why I enjoyed the project so much. It was an amazing experience.”

Though these designs are not being considered for implementation by the owners of the building, the proposals put forth by the students are an optimistic vision of what might be possible in downtown Pittsburgh.