Students Use Real-Life Immigrant Experiences to Win International Competition
A team of Kent State students took first place in the seventh annual Mission: Life international competition on Nov. 12, which took place at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.
The winning team, aided by Edgar Eduard Kooijman, Ph.D., (Director, Biotechnology Program and Associate Professor, Biological Sciences) and J.R. Campbell (Executive Director, Design Innovation Initiative and Professor, The Fashion School), traveled to Texas to present their idea that addressed this year’s topic of immigration in the 21st century.
Mission: Life is an international and interdisciplinary competition to address global sustainability issues, while fostering innovative ideas and entrepreneurship and originated in 2012 at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Parana (PUCPR), located in Curitiba, in the southern part of Brazil. This year’s Kent State team consisted of: Anthony Coetzer-Liversage (Ph.D., Public Health: Prevention Science), Tam Ngoc Minh Nguyen (Master of Public Health: Health Policy and Management), Dania Mofleh (Master of Public Health: Epidemiology), and Joud Roufael (Master of Public Health: Health Policy and Management). Each student brought not only their educational credentials to bear in designing their solution, but their own experiences and backgrounds as international students.
Their presentation addressed obstacles in the process of global immigration in the 21st century by developing a innovative, unique, and viable tool that can be used to alleviate the defined obstacles and challenges that immigrants face globally today. Team member Joud Roufael reflected on the event, “In my opinion, this competition was a great learning experience, and my team and I were excited to participate in representing Kent State University and the College of Public Health. We are passionate about our product application Togetherness, which aims to aid immigrants by facilitating their integration process into their new communities to ultimately help them become productive members of their society, since we ourselves experienced various obstacles when first moving to the US as a new country and had unique needs when assimilating with our new community.”
The team plans to incorporate the feedback they gained from the competition, as well as other Kent State resources and faculty, to move forward with development of the application for the market.
Support for the competition was provided through a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences, Design Innovation Initiative, LaunchNET and members of the College of Public Health. “This was a true cross-campus collaboration, in that initially two groups of undergraduate and graduate students from across campus came up with ideas that turned out to be similar enough that it made sense to come together to produce this winning proposal,” says LaunchNET Executive Director Julie Messing, “which is exactly what LaunchNET and DI have been working toward: bringing together disparate groups to work together across campus.”
Dr. Kooijman has advised the Kent State teams for Mission: Life since 2016, when he was asked by the Office of Global Education and the College of Arts and Sciences to bring the competition to Kent State. After Kent State hosted the competition last year and winning this year, Dr. Kooijman is not content to rest on the teams’ laurels, but is already preparing for next year’s international final in Brazil, where the topic will be mental health.
“The Mission: Life competition will now be an integral part of our Design Innovation Initiative,” he said. “As such I work closely with J.R. Campbell and the folks at LaunchNET to coordinate our local and the international competition.”
DI Executive Director Campbell traveled with the group and was impressed with the team’s presentation.
“The incredibly diverse and talented Kent State team collaboratively developed a fantastic solution in support of future global immigration,” he said. “Their thoughtful and well-resolved community app solution was presented so effectively; I was truly impressed.”
While in San Antonio, the group, along with the other competing teams, also participated in a community service project at the Catholic Charities-Guadalupe Community Center, sorting clothes and making packets with sets of winter/warm clothes to be handed out later that day.
“It was hard work, but we had fun,” recollected Dr. Kooijman of the experience with all of the participating students and faculty.