The NAIT Innovation Challenge, where creativity is paramount, is an annual event hosted by the Mawji Centre; this year’s sponsor was Raptor Mining. During the competition, students are given a specific problem to solve, and this year’s theme was the pressures of population growth in Edmonton.
The 2024 competition occurred on February 7th at the Dow Theater (CAT building). It was open to NAIT and high school students from the greater Edmonton area (including Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Lamont, Sherwood Park, Gibbons, Leduc and Nisku). A total of $3,000 was awarded to NAIT winners. At the same time, the members of the winning high school team each won a $250 gift card.
How it worked
Students created teams of two to four and had until January 22nd to register. On January 24th, they received a message from the Mawji Centre informing them of the problem they would be working on. This year, the challenge revolved around Edmonton’s population growth; in the next 45 years, the city’s population is expected to double (to approximately two million).
This year, NAIT partnered with the City of Edmonton, Capital City Pilots and Councillor Keren Tang to challenge students to find creative solutions for this realistic challenge. These partners also made up this year’s panel of judges.
“So, think about two million people as we stand on the brink of a population surge, which sounds scary. The challenges we face are both unprecedented and complex. In times like these, the power of innovation becomes not just advantageous but indispensable,” said Abbie Stein-MacLean, Head of Capital City Pilots.
Edmonton City Councillor for Ward Karhiio, Keren Tang, said the city’s plan includes establishing several goals and targets. “Growth is exciting, and progress is positive, but it also comes with some growing pains, of course, particularly when we think about how we want to grow our city sustainably,” added Tang.
As Tang explained, the growth will likely cause challenges, such as:
- Environmental impacts such as increased pollution
- Stress on natural resources
- Waste management
- Renewable energy
- Maintenance of green spaces
Teams had just a few days to plan. By January 29, they had to create and submit a three-minute video presenting their idea to solve one or more of the challenges above.
1st place: Vortex Dynamic, comprised of John Nasitem, an Electrical Engineering Technology student and Hunter Dufault, a Computer Engineering Technology student. Their idea was to create hydrokinetic turbines to generate energy for Edmonton. They shared a $1,500 prize.
2nd place: Bio Driveway. Carri St. Pierre, Marie Grabowski, and Neza Benedicto, all Bachelor of Technology students, formed this team. Their project was to create a permeable and environmentally friendly pavement replacement for stronger surface absorption, contaminant filtration, and a solid, functional parking surface. The team split a $1,000 prize.
3rd place: CompoCity. This team brought together Angela Ryl, a Bachelor of Business Administration student, and Karlene Guy, a Bachelor of Technology student. Their video showed the implementation of a reusable bag system, which collects food waste comfortably and hygienically, reducing waste in landfills. They shared a $500 prize.
On the high school side, the winning team was Thrive Edmonton from Argyll Centre. The focus was on creating affordable housing with zero net emissions, such as sustainable mini-apartment buildings designed to reduce urban sprawl. They won a $250 gift card per team member.
“We recognize that new passionate young people will become our city’s next changemakers. I believe, and we believe, that a well-rounded education comes not just from the classroom but from a dynamic ecosystem where the seeds of innovation can take root and flourish,” complimented MacLean.
Cover Photo: NAIT staff, project judges and sponsors pose at the 2024 Innovation Challenge. Photo by Fernanda Rocha