Student innovation on display

Where can you find students working to solve problems ranging from language barriers in school to compliance with HIV medication? Try the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) at ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

Students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds work together through CTI’s iProjects program, an initiative that connects students with industry partners to find creative solutions to real-world problems. Each spring, the student teams display their hard work to the community at the Innovation Showcase. They also have the opportunity to meet with potential sponsors.

“The iProject program is really about giving students hands-on, practical experience, and bringing to real life what they’re learning about in the classroom,” says Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of CTI. “Giving students the opportunity to practice what they’re learning really changes everything about their understanding of what they need to do when they take a job.”

IProject teams range in size from two to eight students who work together, under the guidance of faculty mentors, for either one semester or a full academic year, depending on the complexity of the project. While some teams are still in early stages of development, others have already received funding and are looking to expand. In the spring 2012 showcase, presented in May, the projects ranged from medical and educational technologies to socially responsible marketing ventures.

Clothing with a conscience

The Masahua tribe in southern Mexico is a poor community where the average family lives on $2-3 per day. However, the women of this tribe have a special talent – they hand-make beautifully embroidered clothing, using wool from their own sheep and a technique that has been passed down for generations.

“The problem is that they live in a very poor area and they don’t have a lot of people that can buy these beautiful garments that they make,” says Jake Irvin, a member of the Masahua’s Mama’s student team. Irvin and fellow team members Grecia Rojo and Allison Skabrat are helping the women of the Masahua tribe export their products to the United States. The project is sponsored by GlobalResolve, a CTI program that aims to improve technology, sustainability and economic activity in developing communities.

“We are really trying to give these women a way to make a good living off of what they’re really talented at, while also trying to preserve their tradition and tell a story,” Irvin says.

The team surveyed potential customers and distributors in the United States to determine what kinds of products are in demand. To ensure the garments would be received well in modern clothing boutiques, the team researched American fashion trends so the Masahua women could incorporate popular styles with their traditional designs. They have developed a business model and are now looking to partner with local Arizona boutiques.

Technical support

While some projects are aimed at helping communities abroad, others are focused on issues that hit close to home. One student team is working to transform education through new technology. The project, called Information, Communication, Education (ICE) Avatar, is a digital resource for students who need extra support outside the classroom.

The ICE Avatar can be downloaded onto a tablet computer and includes a calendar, music and video player, and other useful tools for students. Team members Arnav Anshul, Kalpana Algotar, Shawn Pike and Pranay Mahendra developed the program with foreign students in mind, because they often struggle with a language barrier.

“The system encourages students to learn at their own convenience and without the constraint of language, reducing burden of the teacher,” the team states on their presentation poster. ICE Avatar uses voice recognition software and has the ability to pause and resume lecture videos, so students can learn at their own pace.

The system can be applied to any age level and will include original instructor content, as well as educational videos created by experts in various subjects. Shawn Pike, a team member and graduate student in CTI’s computing sciences department, says the ICE Avatar will use video contributors who get paid each time one of their videos is downloaded.

Pseudo clinical trials

Innovative technology played an integral role in other projects as well. Jeremy Glick, a CTI engineering student, and Miles Manning, who is double majoring in applied biological sciences and mathematics, worked together on a project called Optimizing the Drug Holidays in HAART Treatment for HIV. HAART stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy, the leading treatment for HIV patients.

“Of great concern is the fact the 25 percent of patients discontinue their treatment plan,” the team states on their presentation poster.

HAART therapies can increase life expectancy by up to 32 years. So why are so many patients non-compliant?

“The problem is, you have to take the treatment twice a day, and there are a lot of side effects,” says Manning. But if patients do adhere to their treatment for a certain length of time, they can take a “holiday” from the drug without compromising their health. The trick is figuring out exactly how long the treatment must be administered before the patient can take a break.

Under the guidance of their mentor Abdessamad Tridane, an assistant professor of applied sciences and mathematics at CTI, Manning and Glick developed a model for HIV progression in an individual using a genetic algorithm.

“We’re running pseudo clinical trials,” Manning says. “The idea is this replaces real patient data,” which give patients the benefit of clinical research without the risk of side effects.

Initial tests showed that eight months of adherence to treatment would allow a temporary holiday without reducing life expectancy. The team has partnered with the Mayo clinic and hopes to continue the project and develop a protocol for allowing patients the maximum number of days without treatment.

While the iProjects are first and foremost learning experiences, they also contribute to students’ professional success.

“Industry tells us that we’ve solved the two-year problem,” Montoya says, referring to the amount of time most entry-level employees take to become fully productive. After the real-world experience students gain at CTI, they can immediately dive into their careers.

Montoya adds: “More importantly, a lot of these projects are sponsored by companies, and many lead to job offers for the students. Sometimes companies even hire entire student teams.”

Written by Allie Nicodemo, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. This story first appeared on the Research Matters website.