Students from colleges across Rhode Island came together at the University of Rhode Island Memorial Union last Saturday for a friendly competition to solve problems found on university campuses. At the second-annual ChangeFest, students competed for cash prizes to turn their projects into a reality.

Hosted and created by the URI student organization, Thrive, ChangeFest featured students from URI, Bryant, Rhode Island College, and Brown University. The students who participated in the competition competed by creating a solution to an issue they’re passionate about, and then presented a pitch to an audience of Thrive members and fellow competitors, who later voted on the winners.  

The day-long event began at 10 a.m. with keynote speakers URI President David Dooley and co-founder of Etsy, Matt Stinchcomb. Chief Diversity Officer Naomi Thompson and Vice President of Student Affairs Kathy Collins later closed the event after all the awards were presented.

After the first two speakers finished up at noon, and got the students going, the students chose their group members and their topic ideas before getting to work. Each group was given six hours to concoct an idea and presentation. The students were then provided with dinner at 6 p.m. and the pitches began an hour later.

The three winning groups focused on how to get more college students to recycle, how to help college faculties become more culturally diverse and how to help improve the mental health of college students.

The winning group called themselves “Simbiotics.” They created an incentive-based program to encourage students to recycle. Universities would offer scholarships to students who recycle frequently. Every time a student recycles, they would track their progress by scanning barcodes on “smart” recycling bins with a smartphone app.The group was awarded first place and $500 for this idea.

Second place winners, “The Change Agents,” came up with an idea to help diversify college faculties to match diverse student bodies. Their idea featured university web pages that incorporated more information into their staff directories about faculty’s cultural backgrounds, areas of expertise, and their experience in their subject field. This would help universities be more transparent, and would allow students to make more informed decisions about which college to attend. This idea won the team $300.

The third place team called themselves the “Mindful Motivators,” and they created an idea for a social media website where people dealing with mental health issues could talk about their problems, and get constructive feedback from other users. The Mindful Motivators were awarded $200 for their idea.

According to Thrive President Elana Rivkin, the event was a large success and far exceeded her expectations.

“It is amazing to see what people are capable of in only a few hours,” said Rivkin. “The students created tangible ideas that could actually change our community someday in just one day.”

The students who participated in Changefest also impressed Vice President of Student Affairs Kathy Collins, who was the event’s final keynote speaker. She encouraged the students not to give up on their ideas after ChangeFest.

“I challenge you all to not let these ideas die,” said Collins. “These are ideas that education needs.”