UO Net Impact TeamUO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) public relations student Keala Verigan recently collaborated with two UO students and one Oregon State University (OSU) student on an entry for the Toyota + Net Impact Next Generation Mobility Challenge. The challenge, which was organized in March by the UO chapter of the sustainable business nonprofit Net Impact, was an opportunity for students to use their skills and creativity to solve social and environmental challenges related to transportation. The program was highly selective on the UO campus — more than 90 students applied for only 40 spots — and the teams had the chance to compete against other college students around the country.

In addition to Verigan, the Oregon team includes James Greisen, a senior studying product design; Sydney Quinton-Cox, a junior studying biological engineering at OSU; and Carolyn Taclas, a junior studying business administration. The team’s project idea focused on making public transportation more efficient and appealing to the public.

“We decided to make a mobile community center that would have charging stations, Wi-Fi/computer access, a free book library, a mini mart, art therapy and some city information all within this structure. It’s an adaptable space that can fit to the city’s needs and encourages the use of public transportation,” Verigan explained. “Instead of waiting for your bus or train to come, you can learn more about your city or pick up some groceries within the community center.”

The competition consists of three challenge phases: submission challenge, semi-finalist team challenge and finalist team challenge. After the Oregon team’s submission was judged on several criteria, including social impact and creativity, it moved from the submission round to the semi-finalist round, where it competed against a narrower field of 15 semi-finalists. By the end of March, the UO submission was selected as one of two finalists. As a finalist, Verigan’s team will be connected with Toyota mentors who will help them further refine their pitch.

“UO Net Impact and Toyota did a wonderful job putting on the event,” Verigan said. “They broke the day into sections to further foster ideas, and they offered many supplies to organize ideas and help present them to the judges. There were many talented students with great ideas! It was a good experience to further develop your skills in creativity, production, teamwork and even presentations.”

For the next phase of the competition, the team created a video pitch (right) to send to Toyota. In addition to a panel of judges from the company, the public will get to vote — accounting for 30 percent of the final point tally — via the Toyota + Net Impact Next Generation Mobility Challenge webpage May 6-9.

Members of the winning team will receive paid internships with Toyota this summer, and all three finalist teams will get all-expenses-paid trips to the 2016 Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia this November.

Verigan said her experience with UO Net Impact has been an extremely rewarding and valuable opportunity to further her skills. “The Toyota + Net Impact Next Generation Mobility Challenge opened my eyes to the different difficult situations people face to get from Point A to Point B,” she said. “We came together to try to solve some of those issues and make it easier for our neighbors to enjoy the city.”

Story by Nicole Rideout ’16