Teams of students are preparing for the Associated Student Government’s second annual Improve NU Challenge.
Improve NU is a contest open to all students in hopes of getting their ideas for change at Northwestern implemented. Students will present their ideas to a panel of judges on February 24. The competition will be held at Kresge and the Block Museum from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 35 administrators will serve as judges. Three winning projects will receive cash prizes of $750, $500 and $250 for first, second and third place, respectively.
“It might feel like you can’t make a change on campus, even if you have an idea of something that you want to do,” Director of Improve NU and Weinberg sophomore Ayelet Chavel said. “It’s hard to get funding and it’s hard to have connections to faculty and admin that can help you make it happen.”
Chavel explained that Improve NU helps connects students to the administration, which students often feel is hard to do.
“For the people that win, we want them to know that we’re supporting them and that the school is supporting them, because a lot of the time people think that administration doesn’t really hear us,” Chavel said.
McCormick Junior Sid Ahuja, the founder of Improve NU, transferred to Northwestern as a sophomore from UT Austin, where he was inspired to create an entrepreneurial program for students.
“I think that I’ve always had a passion for planning stuff on campus,” Ahuja said. “At UT Austin, I planned an event about entrepreneurship, and I invited entrepreneurs from across Texas."
Students participating in Ahuja’s event at Northwestern can enter their ideas in four different categories: wellness, academics, diversity and inclusion. Ahuja believes that these categories help ideas stand out and have more feasibility.
“[It] gives students the opportunity to pitch ideas to experts of a category and then afterwards, if they win, they have this partner office that they can work with,” Ahuja said.
The competition taking place on February 24 will consist of two rounds. There will be different panels of judges for each round and each category.
“I think it’s very exciting because when you see the finals round actually take place, students are pitching ideas to the leaders of the school, and who else would you want to pitch an idea to than them?” Ahuja said.
Weinberg junior Drake Weissman is competing this year with his team. Their company, EO, is dedicated to student transportation.
“Just through living on campus for a few years and spending it with hundreds of kids on campus, we found that getting around campus is harder than it has to be,” Weissman said. “It’s either inconvenient, slow or expensive, and so our proposed solution was a bike-share system that utilized bike racks on campus.”
Weissman explained that their bike-share system would work through an app and students would pay to use bikes that are already on campus, therefore minimizing any inconvenience issues.
“Administration doesn’t want to have to deal with bikes laying around all over the place. They don’t want to deal with scooters whizzing past people. It’s all about control and having bikes will really ensure that because there’s already bike racks on campus,” Weissman said.
Weismann said his team focuses on the issue at hand and is dedicated to one common goal.
“There’s a certain way that Northwestern is being run now, and without creativity and new ideas it’s always going to be the same way,” Weissman said. "We’re a university-focused, student-focused company, so everyone in that company is driven to benefit students, which is the same goal as improve NU; to improve the life of Northwestern students."
Through Ahuja and ASG’s work, students like Weissman are given a platform to able to speak out about issues and try to get them resolved. The cash prize and the potential implementation of the winning idea serves as motivation for Weismann and his team.
“I think this specifically is a great way to get students who wouldn’t necessarily be incentivized," Weissman said. "They might have ideas to change Northwestern, but they wouldn’t have the incentive to actually make things happen, which is why I think it’s a brilliant idea."
Editor's Note: This story was changed to correct a misstated amount of prize money. This correction was made at 11:11 p.m. on February 20th. NBN regrets the error.