What’s the B.I.G. idea?

The sky’s the limit for new ‘idea factory’ at the College of Engineering & Mines

Hesham El-Rewini and Mark Kennedy

President Kennedy and College of Engineering & Mines Dean Hesham El-Rewini welcome students to the Big Ideas Gym kick-off event in the new Collaborative Engineering Complex. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

It’s a BIG challenge – with a big payoff.

From thinking about the future to solving the problems of today, the Big Ideas Gym (BIG) is a new place for students in the UND College of Engineering & Mines (CEM) and others to imagine ideas and make them happen. And, along the way, win $2,000 in scholarships.

“Students can be creative and discover their passions here,” said Trevor Lachance, a senior civil engineering student and chair of the Engineering Student Advisory Board. “It unlocks more opportunities for us to learn. The new lab spaces are invaluable.”

Designed as an “idea factory,” The BIG, in the CEM’s recently completed Collaborative Engineering Complex (CEC), enables students from across campus to collaborate, solve problems and envision the future. An addition to the CEM, the CEC contains new labs and classrooms, along with collaborative areas, that are open to students across campus.

The addition opened last week with a kickoff and student welcome reception in the Tom and Carolyn Hamilton Atrium of the CEC.

“Why are we here?” asked Hesham El-Rewini, CEM dean. “We are here at UND Engineering because we want to improve the quality of life for people. We want to make a difference and solve problems. We are proactive in thinking what the future will be like, and we try to make it happen. This is why we become engineers.”

“I love the idea of the Big Ideas Gymnasium,” said President Kennedy at the kickoff. “UND is the place where big ideas should come from. We’re taking on global challenges.”

Big Ideas Gymnasium

Students and faculty gather at the Big Ideas Gym kickoff and student welcome reception in the Collaborative Engineering Complex at the College of Engineering & Mines. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Imagining the future

The challenge? Each month, up to eight teams of four students will compete to find innovative ways to solve a problem. The February challenge is to develop a novel application for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Students will use the BIG competition to meet and develop ideas, then produce a YouTube videos that explains their solution to the challenge. Student and faculty judges will award $2,000 in scholarships each month, donated by the Larson Foundation.

The BIG initiative is managed by Brian Tande, associate professor and chair of chemical engineering.

“I’m interested in entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Tande. “Giving students these skills sets us apart. We want UND engineering to be known for leadership skills and an entrepreneurial attitude. The Big Ideas Gymnasium will make this happen.”

Tande said that he sees the initiative as a campus-wide activity. “We want art, business, medical, business, students from all majors, to work together and innovate,” he said.

“This is a fun, interesting way for students to use their engineering skills,” said Michael Mann, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and executive director of The UND Institute for Energy Studies. “It offers an opportunity to work with students who are outside their discipline, and outside of engineering.”

Merry Tesfu, a junior in petroleum engineering, is thinking about taking part in the competition. “I’m excited to see the outcome,” she said. “It will change views and perspectives of engineering.”

The sky is the limit

“What Hesham and the School have done is unique,” said Steve Burian, a UND alumnus and vice chair of the CEM Executive Board. “You are fortunate to have a leader who is challenging you and giving you an opportunity to be the best and brightest.”

The new labs and classrooms, as well as the BIG competition, are for students to examine and imagine the future, said El-Rewini.

“In class, you work within constraints and for grades,” El-Rewini said. “Here, you have safe space without constraints. The sky is the limit.”