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KEEN Innovation Challenge Blog

KEEN innovation challenge blog


Four times per year, Ohio Northern University students have a chance to compete in the KEEN Innovation Challenge. Students form teams of three from different majors/disciplines and have one hour to work together to complete an impromptu challenge. After each challenge, the students are invited to submit a reflection detailing the challenge, their team's methods and procedures relating to the challenge, what they enjoyed about the challenge and their learning outcomes. After each challenge a new reflection will be posted here.

February 23, 2016


KEEN challenges are a fun way to compete and possibly earn some money. The latest KEEN Innovation Challenge was a tower constructing competition. Each team was given a brown lunch bag with various arts and crafts items to use for their assembly. The bag consisted of many straws, pipe cleaners, paperclips, thin rope, a couple of Popsicle sticks and two clothespins. All teams had 40 minutes to construct their tower however they saw fitting. The goal was to create the tallest tower which was able to hold a tennis ball at its tallest point. The tennis ball had to sit atop of the tower for 30 seconds and if the tower was successful in that feat, then it was measured. The tallest tower won.

My team was comprised of me and my good friend; we are both freshman mechanical engineers. (Our other usual teammate decided to get lunch instead…what a shame.) We did a poor job at reading the directions for the last challenge, so right off the bat we made sure that we understood what was being asked. He and I did our own constructing at first to see if either of us could come up with a solid base. My ideas were not faring well for me, but he seemed to be creating quite a stable base. As time was running down, we came back together and I helped him with his design. There was about one minute left and we had constructed a tower that was able to hold the tennis ball, but after looking around, we realized that it had to be taller. To fix this problem, we took the piece of paper that the directions were on, rolled it up like a telescope and put pipe cleaners around it. We then took that piece of paper and lodged it near the top of our tower. We rushed to see if the ball would balance at the top of the rolled paper, and thankfully it did.

Our creation was decently similar to the rest of the competition, except for the rolled up paper. Thankfully this piece of paper gave us about 8 or 9 inches of extra height. We were not victorious, but second place is not bad.  Effective communication is important during KEEN Challenges because of the limited amount of time and fierce competition. My friend and I did little talking in the beginning, but as the end was approaching, we did a good job of helping each other out as we constructed a tower about 23 inches tall.  

These challenges are very exhilarating. It is always fun to create something in 40 minutes, which has a chance at winning, without any prior knowledge beforehand. I can relate these experiences to my Introduction to Engineering class. In both my class and the challenges, we have limited resources, time, and teammates to work with. This is beneficial because in the “real world”, we will have similar scenarios. What I found interesting about the challenge is how we use common items to create structures that are quite sturdy. KEEN Innovation Challenges force you to think outside the box which only helps you grow. I recommend that all engineers participate because the challenges are interactive and test many of your abilities. 


Winning Reflection - Joshua Turich, Mechanical Engineering Freshman


February 9, 2016

Most affordable bridge ChALLENGE

KEEN Innovation Challenges always offer a fun way to exercise my brain. This past challenge involved bridge building. Each competing team had 40 minutes to construct a two foot bridge to hold two pounds of weight for 10 seconds without failure. To be declared the winner of the challenge, each team had to wisely spend a $7200 allowance to make their bridge as cheap as possible. This allowance could be spent on various materials such as dowel rods, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, duct tape, pipe cleaners, and other similar resources.

My team consisted of 3 mechanical engineers. We immediately spent the first few minutes brainstorming a few different methods we could use to create our bridge. After a quick cost analysis, we decided to attach several dowel rods with rubber bands, adding popsicle sticks for extra support. We then created a cradle like structure to hang beneath the dowel rods to hold and distribute the weight. The cradle consisted of a base made up of parallel popsicle sticks held together by pipe cleaners, which were attached to the dowel rods above with pipe cleaners. This easy construction required very few materials and actually ended up having the lowest cost throughout the competition of $1300, earning us first place!

Our design was a lot simpler and cheaper than the other designs. Several other teams tried to use duct tape and zip ties to construct their bridges, a strategy we quickly ruled out because of the high cost of materials. Proper strategizing has proved to be a big part of these challenges, as it has ruined many of our attempts towards success in the past. At previous challenges, my team has tried to make last minute adjustments and it has ruined our product and caused us to lose.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the challenge was working to create something out of nothing within a time constraint. One of the most interesting aspects of engineering is problem solving, which KEEN always incorporates in its challenges. This challenge specifically allowed me to apply things I learned last semester in my statics class as well as in other engineering related courses I’ve taken. Furthermore, I was able to learn more about engineering from this hands on experience. That’s the reason I aim to compete in every KEEN Innovation Challenge.



Winning Reflection - Dylan Dolph, Mechanical Engineering Sophomore


College of Engineering

Lori Goldsmith

Executive Administrative Assistant
Biggs 201
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Tuesday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
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