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Schurz Communications, Purdue award innovation prize to five students

A team of five students in Purdue’s College of Technology recently won the New Ideas in Media Technology Innovation Challenge with their working prototype of “Impulse,” a technology that collects and presents social media posts related to a single event. 

Now in its second semester, the innovation prize — initiated by the Purdue Innovation and Commercialization Center-Information Technology (ICC-IT) and Schurz Communications, Inc. — is intended to encourage students to pursue careers in digital media and invent real-world solutions to challenges faced by media companies in the digital age.

Impulse team
From left, undergraduates Leah Thompson, Andy Gault, Matthew Ryker, David James, and Edgar Plata hold a check for $5,000 after winning the New Ideas in Media Technology Innovation Challenge.

“Impulse” combines social media streams to depict opinions and experiences during a specific event, such as a concert, public campaign, or community gathering. Created by undergraduates Andy Gault, David James, Edgar Plata, Matthew Ryker and Leah Thompson, the online solution even was used during the competition’s judging and awards ceremony on Dec. 3, 2013. The team placed first among a group of eight finalists, winning $5,000 and an extra $500 for being the audience favorite.

“We came up with the idea because Dodd Technologies in Indianapolis came to our class and pitched a project for us to work on,” Thompson says. “They wanted a way for audience members’ tweets to be displayed on a screen during events because they’d noticed that individuals were more focused on the phones in their laps and what was going on in the social world instead of what was being said on stage.”

Learning how to present to a panel of judges and persuade them that the technology is needed was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project, she says. The recognition her team received has boosted her confidence going into job interviews next year.

“I didn’t have much experience related to innovation before this project,” Thompson says. “I feel like we’ve all worked really hard on ‘Impulse,’ and this award is validation. I’m not just saying I can do it, I have proof.”

A team of two computer engineering students, Zachary Williams and Jacob Stevens, captured second prize and $3,500 for software that can mine data from many transcripts of conversations to determine influencer relationships. Their project used java code to analyze videos logged in the C-SPAN archive, which is located at Purdue’s Research Park.

Nicholas Zak and Peter Mercado, who collaborated on and demonstrated a platform called “Skyepack,” won third prize and $1,500. Skyepack makes it easy to package multi-media content for distribution. Zak and Mercado are now interning at the start-up company Skyepack, LLC.

Additional presentations featured concepts related to data mining and analytics, enhanced HTML smart TV-viewing experiences, online content delivery and group membership models.

Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s vice president for information technology, chief information officer, and the Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology, says student competitions such as the Schurz Challenge help create engines of innovation within the community.

“This challenge provides an opportunity for creative students to showcase their technical and entrepreneurial skills to an experienced panel of judges,” says McCartney, who also served as the inaugural director of the ICC-IT, part of Purdue’s efforts move discoveries to market more quickly and spur economic development in Indiana and the nation.

Schurz Communications is based in Mishawaka, Ind., and operates cable, high-speed data, TV, radio, print and digital businesses “from Alaska to Augusta,” according to Kerry Oslund, the company’s digital media vice president. The corporation owns five newspapers, eight radio stations, a television station, and a printing company.

Another Schurz-Purdue Innovation Challenge will take place in the spring semester of 2014. Details will appear at www.purduefoundry.com

Writer: Diana Hancock, commercialization director, Office Vice President Information Technology

Sources: Gerry McCartney, 765-496-2270, mccart@purdue.edu

Leah Thompson, thomp100@purdue.edu

Last updated: Dec. 9, 2013