Final six STEAM Challenge teams selected to compete in Pitch Competition for $25,000 in prizes

The Wayne State University School of Social Work and Mike Ilitch School of Business are proud to host the third annual STEAM Challenge, which brings together interdisciplinary student teams to address a social problem in our city. The competition has included a comprehensive business development services, coaching, and mentoring support that leveraged the time and talents of individuals and organizations that make up Detroit's growing social entrepreneurship ecosystem. The following six interdisciplinary student teams have been selected to advance to the final round of judging. Four local judges will select the top three teams who will split the $25,000 cash prize. 

UPDATE: In response to the CDC's recommendation for social distancing, we are transitioning the in-person Final Pitch slated for March 19, 2020 to a private virtual event. We will announce the final winners of the STEAM Challenge in April 2020.

We encourage you to take a moment and view the brief application videos created by each team, which explore the ways they plan to improve the lives of Detroiters.

Bee Plus

Bees are responsible for one-third of our global food supply through pollination. They pollinate roughly 150 crop species, from fruits to vegetables to nuts. However, the bees are dying off, not just in Detroit, but nationwide. In Southeast Michigan, more than 600,000 people are food insecure. Loss of pollinators could lead to lower availability of crops and plant-life, which provide essential micro-nutrients for human diets and nutritional health. Without bees, our diets would mostly consist of corn, wheat, and rice, as they are pollinated by the wind. Entire food chains would be at risk, with an approximate $20 billion dollar loss in agricultural production. To alleviate this problem, we started Bee Plus. Bee Plus is a non-profit organization that fosters education on the importance of bees within the Wayne State community and their impact on the public health of Detroit. As well as, builds urban bee farms to prevent the diminishing bee populations in the city. Through these efforts we will increase food security by promoting agricultural growth and biodiversity, while providing opportunities for community engagement and city beautification. In addition, we want to change the false perceptions around bees and empower individuals to create more sustainability initiatives.

Members: Kamali Clora (CLAS - Public Health), Jack Spurlock (CLAS - Sociology), Afifi Kadadu (Nursing), Elijah Pope (Business), and Mahfuz Haque (CLAS - Public Health)

Creative Collective

Creative Collective aims to provide Detroit Public School youth with alternative education workshops using the dramatic arts. Given that when budget cuts occur arts program are the first to go, and students miss out on valuable skill-building experiences provided by the performing arts, losing a creative outlet. All of our team members have experience in both cast and crew of various theatre troupes and musicals. We are comprised of dancers, actors, costume designers, and stage managers alike. Our goal is to visit various Detroit Public Schools and provide students with the opportunity to create and perform a small scale theater production in order to help them learn more about themselves and the world around us by building both practical and creative skills through theater. The desired impact is that students will develop useful skills to help with innovative problem solving and teamwork outside of their school.

Members: Hannah Rittmueller (CFPCA - Dance), Genia Marsee (CFPCA - Theatre), Lana Elzein (CFPCA - Theatre), Cameron Blackwell (CFPCA - Theatre), and Miriam DeWolf (Liberal Arts & Sciences - Biological Sciences)

Detroit AirNet

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are pervasive air pollutants in urban environments and contribute to a wide range of acute and long-term health issues. VOC exposure is linked to an increasing preterm birth rate, which has risen to 15.3% in the city of Detroit. Currently there is only one location that monitors Detroit’s ambient VOC concentration as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

Given the local variations in urban air quality, there is a void in the available data on VOC concentrations. Detroit AirNet team addresses this data need and will assist local communities by implementing low cost and high-quality VOC air sensors. The team proses to build these sensors, known as SPods, at Wayne State University where students and faculty will provide the physical and technical expertise necessary for community groups interested in air quality data analysis. Detroit AirNet will create a partnership with volunteer community members to mount the SPods on community-defined zones of concern and provide subsequent analysis of the information collected via the sensors. This data will provide a platform to inform and guide urban planning and policy decisions, on behalf of the impacted communities.

Members: Brendan O'Leary (Engineering - Civil Engineering), Allison Diehl (Engineering - Civil Engineering), Dimitrios Kakaris (Engineering - Civil Engineering), Rachel Akers (Engineering - Civil Engineering), Hector Esparra-Escalera (Liberal Arts & Sciences - Biological Sciences), and Allison Lucas (CFPCA - Communications)


Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) experience social service inequalities compared with the general population and ultimately affecting their quality of life. These disparities are frequently defined as differences in health outcomes, education and youth development and their determinants between segments of the population as defined by social, demographic, environmental and geographical attributes. Although quality of life in those with IDD is increasing, it remains lower than that of the rest of the population. Individuals with IDD have increased levels of educational and development needs, which are often unrecognized and unmet. Not to mention, they face significant challenges navigating the education and social service systems, particularly during transition ages (ie.16 - 26). This contributes to ongoing health inequality, chronic ill health, and premature death. Many biological, psychological, social, and developmental factors, as well as life experience contribute to this inequality. Individuals with IDD also experience access barriers when attempting to access education and social services. By utilizing Technology and integrating Artificial Intelligence, we are creating a network that will Join Adults and Youth with Disabilities through Access (JAYDA) into a marketplace where social service providers can be matched with youth clients who will be successful in their specific programs. For STEAM, we will focus on individuals with IDD in the transition years and matching them to specialized services for their needs. This initiative will not only improve quality of life, but will reduce wait times and unnecessary healthcare resources.

Members: Sean Jones (Business), Tre Jordan (Social Work), and Jahan Tajran (Medicine)

Not Alone

In 2020, there isn’t an easy way for young people to access local, state, and federal laws. We believe accessing the updated laws of your state should be as easy as getting on an app and seeing it, so we are doing just that. Knowing the laws translates to the safety of all people especially when engaging with law enforcement. Not Alone will provide tutorials on how to engage with police in scenarios like routine traffic stops, etc. Giving young people access to local, state, and federal Laws could lead to a more politically aware and engaged population, and it’s time to push our country in a more politically aware direction. It’s time to let the people know that they are Not Alone.

Members: Laila Ameerah Alexander (Education), Yakeem Tatum (CFPCA), Naje Safford (Engineering - Electrical Engineering), and De'Jon White (Engineering - Computer Science)

Reroot Detroit

The Reroot Detroit team seeks to tackle issues facing Detroit residents-- including poor water, air, and soil quality; food insecurity and food desserts; and high unemployment rates. Unlike other green infrastructure organizations in Detroit, we won’t purchase land parcels, instead we plan to lease land from the City of Detroit at a decreased price. This allows us to keep costs down and increase community support as the City will still own the land. After we have identified parcels of interest and have negotiated the details of the lease, we plan to work with community partners to survey the needs and interests of community members. Once community input has been received, we plan to choose a green infrastructure project that best benefits the community and install it on the land leased from the City of Detroit. We then provide training to each community on how to maintain their green infrastructure. This same training would be available to Contractors and City employees for a flat rate that would fund the installation of green infrastructure and training of under-resourced communities. The training provided to contractors and city employees also allows for better maintenance of green infrastructure across the city, not just Reroot Detroit parcels.

Members: Jedidiah Jacobson (CLAS - Biological Sciences), Brenna Friday (CLAS - Biological Sciences), Khurram Imam (CLAS - Economics), Kate Ekhator (Engineering - Civil and Environmental Engineering), and Jonathon Weyhrauch (Engineering - Civil and Environmental Engineering)


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STEAM Challenge