Shae Ashamalla | Mustang News

Cal Poly College of Engineering is offering $35,000 in prize money to upperclassman student teams that participate in the first Change the World Challenge, a competition aimed at addressing the world’s pressing issues and promoting holistic thinking amongst students.

For the first installment of this challenge, this year’s theme is “Solutions for Living in a Post-COVID World.” Students who participate will be split up into teams of five and mentored by Cal Poly faculty.

Three teams will win prize money: 1st place splits $20,000, 2nd place splits $10,000 and 3rd place splits $5,000.

“[The project] balances technical concerns with social, cultural, economic, historical, political, ethical and environmental implications,” College of Liberal Arts Director of Research Engagement and Internalization Dawn Neill said.

The competition will span winter and spring quarter with a time commitment of approximately four hours per week.

Any upperclassman can apply, regardless of major. Students will begin work with their randomly-assigned teams in winter quarter. The presentations will be evaluated by an independent set of judges in the spring.

Cal Poly alumn Bill Swanson is donating all of the prize money. Swanson is the former CEO of Raytheon Technologies, a U.S. defense contracting and industrial corporation. He graduated from Cal Poly in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

Students are encouraged to apply a “systems-thinking framework,” which Neill describes as an iceberg approach: around 5% of a problem is visible, with the other 95% being something you have to dig for.

“[Swanson], as someone working in the industry, saw this great need for multi-disciplinary cooperation and thinking,” Neill said.

Engineering professor Rebekah Oulton and Neill were tasked with figuring out how to get students to think more holistically in their approach to this challenge, something Neill calls “human-centered” thinking. 

Neill emphasized that this is an extracurricular — not a class — so a lot of the systems-thinking learning will be done independently.

Students have until Nov. 5 to apply. The application can be found here.

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