Amazing things happen when students have the freedom to invent fearlessly

What I’ve come to realize with most people, but definitely with engineers, is that someone always has an idea,” says Darryll Pines, Clark School dean from 2009–2020. “All you need to do is give them the resources, a little bit of space, and the right guidance—then stand back and see what happens.

What happened was student innovation writ large: a drone with the execution of a flying carpet; an industry-changing 3D-printed prosthetic foot; an electric bicycle able to travel 125 miles on a single charge; a solar-powered device that can pull drinking water out of thin air. Ten projects—many of them technologies that had never before been achieved—were presented in October 2019 at the 125th Anniversary Mpact Challenge Symposium by the Clark School students and faculty who had nurtured them to fruition.

“I think it got a lot of students excited,” says Robert Briber, the Clark School’s interim dean. “Traditionally we have competed in challenges that were externally defined, including the Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition and the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. But the Mpact projects were purely internally driven by our faculty and students, and many of them chose to address some pretty significant engineering problems. It was not easily done.”

But the Mpact Challenge, which was funded in part by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, did more than bear amazing innovations. It offered students—many of whom were undergraduates—the opportunity to take risks, gain unmatched experience, and collaborate with each other and accomplished faculty alike. Across the board it created a sense of pride; many of the students were humbled by the potential “Mpact” of their efforts. Some of the projects resulted in patents; one could break a world record; still another could walk away with a share of a $500,000 prize from NASA.

Many of the projects will continue beyond Mpact; all of them have left an imprint on the students who worked on them.