Hunger-solving venture gets team to national finals of Microsoft Imagine Cup

April 16, 2012

A team of four ASU students is headed to Seattle, April 20, to compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup U.S. finals, which is a step away from the Imagine Cup Worldwide finals – the premier international student technology competition.

The FlashFood team will be among 10 teams competing in the Design Software category. Another 12 teams are finalists in the Game Design category. Hundreds of teams from throughout the United States vied for a place in the Imagine Cup finals. FlashFood Microsoft Imagine Cup Download Full Image

FlashFood is developing technology and systems to help prevent food waste and deliver fresh food to people in need. Team members are: Eric Lehnhardt, a senior biomedical engineering major; Katelyn Keberle, a senior materials science and engineering major; Steven Hernandez, a senior computer science major; and senior marketing and sustainability major Jake Irvin.

Their venture evolved from projects developed in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. EPICS director Richard Filley is Flashfood’s faculty advisor.

The team is forming a network of restaurants and banquet halls to donate leftover and surplus food to Flashfood operations, which would then take it to drop-off points at or near local community centers, churches and schools for distribution to families and individuals.

The students are working on a mobile-phone application to help manage their food pickup and distribution system. The app would be used for communications between the providers, collectors and recipients of the food.

The Flashfood project’s goal is to operate every day of the week, particularly on evenings when conventions, parties and other events may have available food that would otherwise be thrown away, Lehnhardt says.

Flashfood's leaders are also organizing a training program for other student volunteers to participate in the service.

“Most of us have worked in the food industry and have experienced the frustration of having to throw away perfectly good food,” Lenhardt says. “We are serious about the impact we think our idea can have in multiple communities.”

“We are not aware of anyone else in the United States doing this,” Filley says. “FlashFood is using technology to connect multiple people in a short amount of time to fill a niche in the hunger landscape that no one else is addressing.”

The Imagine Cup competition challenges students to use technology to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. The competition began in 2003 with about 1,000 students working with various teams. Last year more than 358,000 students from 183 countries and regions around the world participated as part of teams trying to move through the stages of the competition.

At the U.S. finals, the top four teams in each of the two categories will win prize packages that include funding to support their ventures. First-place winners in each division will move on to the Imagine Cup Worldwide finals in Sydney, Australia in July, plus receive additional funding for their projects.

“It’s gratifying that an issue that is important to us, and a solution we think will make such a difference, is important enough to others that they would be willing to give us this opportunity,” Lehnhardt says.

Competing in the Imagine Cup U.S. final will give Flashfood members motivation to more thoroughly develop their plan and articulate their goals, he says, and will help publicize the project to the local communities in which they hope to establish their system.

The Imagine Cup limits teams entering the competition to four members. Three other ASU students among the founding members of FlashFood are Loni Amundson, a senior sustainability major, Ramya Baratam, a senior computer science major. Mary Hannah Smith, a global studies and sustainability major.

For more about the Microsoft Imagine Cup U.S. final, visit

Written by Natalie Pierce and Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Future teachers study ecosystems from Phoenix to Panama

April 16, 2012

For Lauren Coffey and Whitney Clem, the opportunity to travel to Panama and spend a week learning about rainforest ecosystems was too tempting to pass up. The two student teachers in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College were selected for a scholarship enabling them to learn about similarities and differences of biodiversity in Arizona’s deserts and Panama’s rainforests, and to pass this knowledge along to their students in elementary and middle school classrooms.

In earning the Mary Lou Fulton Science Exchange Scholarship, Clem and Coffey are joining eight K-8 teachers from schools in central Phoenix in a yearlong science education program, Desert to Rainforest. There are an additional 10 in-service teachers who have been selected to participate; those individuals live and teach in Panama. Lauren Coffey Download Full Image

The participating educators share a passion for helping children develop critical thinking skills, science know-how and cultural awareness. Desert to Rainforest will enable them to use powerful new interactive video technology to make connections among middle school students in Phoenix and Panama.

The project is a collaborative initiative of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI), ASU’s School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Teachers College, as well as Audubon Arizona, in collaboration with Phoenix Public School Districts and the Ministry of Education in Panama. Support comes through a Youth Access Grant from the Smithsonian Institution.

The trip to Panama will take place in July. In late March, the Arizona educators spent a day at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in central Phoenix. They worked with ASU scientists and Audubon Arizona staff on topics including identification of local desert flora and fauna. They also began their training with the Vidyo videoconferencing technology, using the video interface to interact and work through a lesson plan being developed as part of the project.

“The video component will enable us to build connections between students in Panama and here in Phoenix,” said Coffey, who currently is student-teaching at Valley View School in the Roosevelt School District, as she completes her degree in elementary education with a Diversity in Language and Learning (DLL) endorsement. “I think this is a great addition to the project because it enables middle school students to learn not only about biodiversity but cultural diversity as well.”

Coffey already has demonstrated a commitment to expanding her knowledge of different cultures. Two years ago she spent a semester studying in Seville, Spain, learning Spanish and studying Spanish history and culture.

Clem, meanwhile, is student-teaching at Edison Elementary School in the Phoenix Elementary School District. She will earn Teachers College’s dual degree that leads to certification in special education and elementary education.

“The first workshop in Phoenix was very productive,” Clem said. “I believe this project, including the upcoming trip to Panama, will help me grow immensely as I begin my teaching career. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn from expert science teachers here in Arizona, as well as visiting a classroom in Panama.”

“Desert to Rainforest emphasizes the development of core curricula that celebrates life in these two rich ecosystems,” said David Pearson, a research professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, who developed the grant with Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College, W. Owen MacMillan, STRI dean of academic programs, and STRI coordinator Nelida Gomez.

“The students living in each of these distinctively different environments will use their personal experiences to understand differences and similarities in the habitats in which they live, and they will bring new knowledge home to share with their families,” Pearson said. “The electronically enhanced communication between students in Panama and Phoenix will be led by teachers who have been trained in critical thinking with an intellectual emphasis on sustainable use of biodiversity and the political and economic importance of cultural diversity.”

“When I become a teacher, I want my students to be exposed to what life is like outside the desert, and teach them to appreciate the unique qualities of the world around them,” Coffey said. “Through Desert to Rainforest, I will gain the knowledge I need to become an advocate for environmental awareness and education.”

The Desert to Rainforest project builds on a strong existing partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Launched in 2010, the collaboration has deepened research opportunities, as well as graduate and undergraduate student training, in biological sciences; critical-thinking; social societies in humans and social insects; sustainability and ecosystem services; genetics and regeneration; culture, language, design and the arts. Central to the project is the creation of innovation in international education reform and a global classroom, research and educational exchanges that extend, virtually and interactively, to bridge international borders, traditional educational and disciplinary boundaries.