University students create innovative solutions at virtual 2021 Spark competition

13 December 2021

Ramboll's think-tank style competition creates innovative solutions to real industry challenges focused on high-level, global impact.

Last month, Ramboll’s annual Spark innovation competition returned with a four-week virtual event. Over 40 students from eight universities – including Clarkson University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Villanova University – joined the think-tank style competition created to develop solutions to real industry challenges focused on high-level, global impact.

Each team in this year’s competition was tasked with developing a solution to a real-time challenge of our competition partner AguaClara Reach (ACR), a nonprofit organization that trains local partners to design and implement affordable nonelectric water treatment technologies for communities around the world. 

The challenge focused on the management of residual waste, or sludge, a byproduct of the drinking water treatment process in Honduras. ACR sought to find a sustainable and cost-effective way to manage residuals that aligns with their vision, meets local restrictions (such as lack of electricity) and addresses growing regulatory pressure. 

At the close of the competition, each team presented intriguing and well-thought-out solutions to a panel of expert judges, with one standing out from the rest. The winning five-student team from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee proposed a solution that focused on dewatering the sludge and converting it into a reusable material.  

“The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee team understood the material supply issues in Honduras, even going so far as to contact wholesalers in Honduras,” said ACR board member Karen Swetland-Johnson, one of the competition judges, of the winning team’s proposal. “Their solution was original and had multiple components that could be mixed and matched to create a custom solution for different plants.”

Ramboll’s Spark competition not only encourages innovative thinking toward a more sustainable society, but it also strives to set participants up to be leaders in the earliest stages of their careers. As part of this year’s event, the student teams also engaged in professional development activities, including workshops centered on learning how to harness their personal brand for success in the workforce and how to find a company that supports their personal and professional goals.

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