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Ohio State student team wins $60,000 for sustainability startup

Smart Campus Challenge promotes student innovation

During the 2024 Smart Campus Challenge on March 2, a team of four students from The Ohio State University won $60,000 to fund a new environmental program they created. The program, Utensils To Go, is designed to reduce waste at the university’s dining halls.

The purpose of the Smart Campus Challenge is to encourage students to generate ideas to help the university advance its sustainability goals, said Josh Knights, director of partnerships, Ohio State Sustainability Institute.

“In 2015, we launched 10-year goals to make our campus more sustainable by doing things like cutting our carbon emissions, conserving water, finding more ways to divert more waste from the landfill,” said Knights, who emceed the event at the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center on the Columbus campus. “What we need now are fresh ideas to keep our momentum going.”

The Smart Campus Challenge was hosted by Ohio State Energy Partners and ENGIE, a global energy group that helps customers increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

“We had eight student teams who worked really hard this academic year to put together some amazing concepts to make our campus more sustainable,” Knights said.

Utensils To Go is a program that aims to provide Ohio State students with reusable utensils for meals, thereby reducing the use of plastic utensils that end up in landfills, said team member Hanshu Kotta.

The team conducted a student survey and incorporated peers’ feedback throughout the process of designing the program and the prototype for the reusable utensils, she said.

“We asked students for their thoughts on either a semester-long loan or a daily use-and-return program,” she said. “The majority of students actually like the second option because it would actually hold them accountable for using the reusable utensils and it would reduce their responsibility for having to keep them.”

In addition to the $60,000 in funding to start their program, the Utensils To Go team will receive a trip to visit ENGIE’s Paris headquarters. The other team members are Jashnavi Bommana, Shreya Morishetty and Dhaarini Prasad Sudha.

“All eight teams had really good ideas, good passion. There wasn’t a single team where we didn’t see merit in your idea or your proposal,” said Serdar Tufekci, ENGIE’s head of major partnerships and one of the challenge judges. “I hope that today will be one of the milestones in your journey, in your education.”

Other Smart Campus Challenge finalists are:

The Mycoremediation Project – Second place; each team member will receive a $500 professional development stipend and will receive funding for their project’s estimated budget. Team members: Parker Haskett, John Chapman and Khoa Cao.

OSU Uniform Campus Recycling Initiative – Third place; each team member will receive a $250 professional development stipend. Team members: Brenden Fowler, Sage Chesser, Ben Rosenthal and Lauren Wagner.  

The judging panel also included Aparna Dial, senior director, Ohio State facilities, management and sustainability; Lauren Koch, sustainability program manager, Wexner Medical Center; Tom Reeves, director of sustainability, Student Life; Joe Campbell, senior lecturer, School of Environment and Natural Resources; Kate Bartter, executive director, Sustainability Institute; Cecil Okotah, environmental sustainability specialist, athletics and business advancement; and Rajiv Ramnath, professor of practice, College of Engineering.

The other participating student teams were:

Agribloom – Roan Kovach, Kalib Riddle, Max Rojanasakdakul and Satvik Gupta.

The Buckeye TrashBot – Sarah Ganbat, Suraksha Baral and Miracle Onyia.

Campus Carpool – Ruby Mitchell, Maggie Slack, Shea Stephens and Isha Patel.

DREEM – Justin Chan, Muhammad Waleed Khan, Aidan Reckamp and Aadi Pathak.

Project Rain to Sustain – Christina Rose, Colby Hoover and Nithya Duddella.

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