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Wond’ry Commodore Cup Unleashes Student Innovation for Sustainable Campus Transformation

Posted by on Friday, December 1, 2023 in News.

This year, the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Center for Innovation, launched their first ever Commodore Cup, a design thinking challenge that was funded through one of Vanderbilt’s Sesquicentennial Grants, which resulted in teams showcasing their ingenuity with proposed sustainability improvements for Vanderbilt’s campus. 

“We were elated to embark on the journey of creating a groundbreaking program centered around the pivotal themes of sustainability and mobility, issues that resonate deeply with each member of our Vanderbilt community,” said Prof. David A. Owens, Evans Family Executive Director of the Wond’ry

The genesis of the Commodore Cup can be traced back to the Office of the Chancellor’s grant program, designed to support activities aligning with the university’s history, future vision, and unique identity. The Wond’ry, in project partnership with the Division of Administration and Clearloop, utilized its grant to create an innovation challenge, resulting in the campus-wide Commodore Cup, with the 2023 theme revolving around sustainability.

There were two unique tracks, each with their own challenges to tackle. Track one involved transportation, and asked how Vanderbilt might re-think and re-design the recruitment and onboarding process to encourage the use of sustainable transportation modes and make daily parking the easiest choice for new employees. The second track explored the creation of an interactive dashboard to encourage Vanderbilt’s many stakeholders to engage with the university’s commitment to climate action. Two standout teams emerged as the victors in the Commodore Cup on Sustainability, earning a prestigious $2500 cash prize each. In addition to receiving a financial award, their proposed ideas will help to contribute to the university’s commitment to sustainable practices.

“Clearloop is proud and honored to have supported the inaugural Commodore Cup challenge,” said CEO, Laura Zapata. “We were very impressed by the high caliber of innovative ideas produced through the challenge. We are excited to continue collaborating with the broader community to amplify and support Vanderbilt University’s ambitious sustainability goals.” 

Throughout the semester, participants engaged in a 10 week design thinking challenge, where they worked to identify key stakeholders, formulate user need statements based on customer discovery interviews, and designed a prototype and presentation, with the help of tools such as Figma and data visualization. Out of the 21 ideas submitted, a total of 9 finalist teams presented to a panel of esteemed judges, who included Laura Zapata, CEO and Co-Founder of Clearloop, Dr. Andrea George, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Environmental Health, Safety, and Sustainability (EHSS), Eric Sullivan, Founder and Principal of PCG Equity, and CEO of Quantum Technology, Gordon Cameron, Global Design and Innovation Lead for Mars Petcare, Michael Briggs, Director of Mobility at Vanderbilt University, Sean McNamara, Senior Manager of Product Planning Strategy at Nissan, Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of Buzz Points, and Stephen Glicken, CEO and Co-Founder of Project Admission. 

Team EZ, (composed of 2nd-year Elizabeth Tucker and 2nd-year Emma Williams) took first place in the transportation category with their proposal to ‘Change the Infrastructure Before the Options’, which would comprise of a mandatory Vanderbilt staff/faculty education module to be completed at onboarding and flexible arrival and departure times for the transportation arrangements. Team Motivation to Direct Action, made up of 3rd-year Emily Qian, 2nd-year Layne Foeder, and 2nd-year master’s student Manda Li, took first place in the sustainability dashboard category for their interactive and colorful sustainability dashboard, which allows for clear breakdowns in any area the user might want to click and explore. 

“Throughout the Commodore Cup process, The Wond’ry taught me more about the design and ideation process than ever before,” noted 2nd-year, Elizabeth Tucker. “I now feel confident in my ability to connect with shareholders and iterate on solutions that are both cost-effective and scalable.”

This initiative not only underscores Vanderbilt’s dedication to sustainability but also demonstrates the power of collaboration between academia, administration, and industry partners in fostering innovative solutions for a more sustainable future. 

Additional recognition was accorded to other teams, with second and third place prizes of $1500 and $500, respectively.

The teams securing these positions were: 

Transportation Track:

  • 2nd place – WorkLab (Ph.D. student, Junyi Ji for the project, Towards a Mobility as a Service Future, which included some ideas such as the ability to activate sustainable mode when traveling for sustainable suggestions, as well as a tailored subscription plan for user groups with possible external partners such as WeGo and Uber)

  • 3rd place – Vandy RideShare (1st-year Miguel Giraldo and year, who suggested the idea of ‘Dore points for utilizing more sustainable travel options, which could be traded for incentives)

Sustainable Dashboard Track:

  • 2nd place – Jenniferst (4th-year Jennifer Dang and 3rd-year Vivian Cao and year, with the project Sustain-a-Squirrel, a series of games which would help to educate participants on best sustainability practices)

  • 3rd place – Sustainabilibros ( 2nd-year Daniel Henricks, 2nd-year Samuel Alexander, and 2nd-year Ty Anders Fong and year for My Carbon VU’footprint, which would include a short survey that would let students see their strengths, areas they can adjust, and how they compare across campus in various sustainable initiatives)