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Winning ECO Challenge team plans to make positive impact on Athens

The winners of the 5th annual ECO Challenge have been announced by the challenge’s panel of judges and stakeholders. The winning team consists of College of Business students Bailey Cain, Kelsey Cruttenden, Mikey Loehr and Megan Veneman, Scripps College of Communication students Ashlee Phares and Jenna Miller and Russ College of Engineering and Technology students Haley Myers and Christian Sheline. 

If approved by Ohio University, this team’s winning idea will be implemented across campus in order to make an eco-friendly and sustainable impact on the Athens community.

The ECO Challenge is an annual event that lasts the entire fall semester, and was held virtually for the first time this year due to COVID-19. Dr. Andrew Pueschel, an associate professor of instruction in management at OU’s College of Business and a co-coordinator of the ECO Challenge, explained that the shift to online-only meetings seemed difficult at first, but was an overall positive experience for both students and instructors.

“The idea of holding a series of training sessions, team building meetings, stakeholder reports (and) a live event (with just-in-time judging) all online was a lot to take in,” Pueschel said in an email. “Not only did we create a virtual repository for all the ECO Challenge reference materials, resources and supplementary materials, (but) we also had to manage stakeholder schedules, donor availability and the organization needed to plan a successful live, but still virtual, event.”

Pueschel explained that looking forward, the ECO Challenge will most likely remain online for resources and meetings as it works well for teams when reaching out to stakeholders in order to perfect their visions. However, Pueschel hopes that next year the ECO Challenge will be able to hold an actual in-person event for their panel of judges to hear the numerous final business pitches.

In the most recent ECO Challenge, teams were judged by faculty of the Office of Sustainability, College of Business and Russ College of Engineering, along with OU alumni and sponsor Dan Squiller. Thanks to Squiller’s sponsorship, the winning team won $500 to split amongst the members, and the 2nd and 3rd place teams won smaller sums of cash.

Pueschel said teams were judged on the validity and relevance of claimed benefits, implementation practicality and risk, rigor and believability of the ROI analysis, adequately addressing stakeholder concerns and clarity and completeness of presentation. 

Veneman, a senior studying both marketing and management & strategic leadership and a member of the winning team, explained that the online nature of the semester made communication a bit more difficult, but her team’s idea of implementing StepNpull was successful nonetheless.

“I feel like my team was very passionate about succeeding in the competition and when we came up with the StepNpull idea, the excitement just kept building from there,” Veneman said in an email. “Our team ended up taking first place in the competition and received recognition from the President of Ohio University, Dr. Duane Nellis, and the President of StepNpull, Mike Sewell.”

The hands-free foot door opener StepNpull was the winning idea for this year’s ECO Challenge, and Veneman is hopeful that the idea is implemented on campus in order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Miller, a junior studying communication studies and a member of the winning team, explained that working with her team was an impactful experience in which she learned valuable lessons about leadership. 

“The best part of this project was working so hard all semester, having the whole team be passionate about our idea, and then winning first place,” Miller said in an email. “This validated that our hard work did not go unnoticed, and our simple idea could have a huge impact on our campus… The StepNpull is a great product that will help combat COVID and reduce paper towel usage, so hopefully we will get to see our idea come to life.”


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