Students and faculty reimagining a sustainable future


A competition titled "Reimagine our Future" challenged students to generate ideas that promote one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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Competition winners Jamie Lee and Semi Shin.
Competition winners Jamie Lee and Semi Shin.

The award ceremony of the Student Sustainability Competition for Undergraduates was held on December 4. In attendance was UIUC Provost Andreas Cangellaris, who said the campus is transforming into a living-learning laboratory for sustainability. He also stressed the importance of helping Illinois students to engage with sustainability issues, with guidance of our faculty.

The eight-week long competition attracted 193 students from across campus. The competition, titled “Reimagine our Future,” challenged students to generate ideas that promote one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Competitors had to communicate their ideas in no more than 1,000 words. The entries covered a wide spectrum, including engineering, health sciences, social sciences, earth sciences, art and design, and architecture.

The overall winners in this inaugural competition were engineering students Jamie Lee and Semi Shin who developed a communication strategy for promoting the use of sustainable cement. They won $2,000 for their innovative efforts. Their faculty advisor was MechSE professor Iwona Jasiuk.

The runner-up award ($1,000) went to three MechSE students, Advay Sudarshan, Aryan Panigrahi, and Yuge Ji. They proposed the development of an energy-efficient thermoelectric cooling system for data centers. They were advised by MechSE’s associate head for undergraduate programs, Professor Sanjiv Sinha.

Teaching Associate Professor Leon Liebenberg founded and coordinated the competition. He mentioned that the seven judges were impressed by the solutions and the students’ reinterpretation of existing solutions.

“The competition stretched students’ imagination to the limit as they also had to interpret the scalability and overall feasibility of their ideas,” Liebenberg said. “The students further had to reflect on how the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals pertained to the chosen sustainability problem.”

The six winning entries can be viewed on the competition website.

Liebenberg mentioned that there are already plans afoot for the Fall 2022 competition. “That competition will enable our students to collaborate with those from other universities, locally and internationally, on common sustainability issues.”

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This story was published December 10, 2021.