The three winning teams, the judges and the organizers of Improve NU pose for a picture after the closing ceremony. Photo by Joshua Perry / North by Northwestern

The 38 teams of the Improve NU Challenge 2020 met Saturday in the McCormick Foundation Center to participate in the annual forum for student-devised solutions to campus issues. The event was hosted by the Associated Student Government, The Garage and the Office of Student Affairs.

Judges chose the top three teams to receive financial backing, and ASG will cooperate with them to make their idea reality. This is the competition’s third year running, and according to this year’s executive director, SESP sophomore Christian Wade, it’s been growing.

“This year we more than doubled the number of applications we received, we doubled the number of teams that actually showed up to the event,” Wade said. “In the future we just want to continue that growth, see more and more students come out and share their ideas.”

Medill freshmen Libby Markham and Talia Schulof took first place with H2Aware, a campus-wide conservation program that uses shower timers to monitor individual students’ water usage. Schulof said she had seen similar projects succeed elsewhere and wanted to bring NU up to speed.

“I was thinking, Northwestern has Sustain NU and all these environmental initiatives, and I was saying, ‘This is so simple. Why don’t we already have this?’” she said.

Markham said that they decided to participate on a whim and ended up having a lot of fun designing the solution and working through logistics. The competition provided them with a straightforward avenue materialize their goal.

“The stakes are low,” Markham said. “You just go. If you embarrass yourself you embarrass yourself, but it was just a fun experience.”

Junior Mikayla Hampton in the School of Communication, who was another competitor, also appreciated the way the competition encourages students to voice concerns and discuss solutions to issues that are important to them.

“I think it’s one thing to have ideas and talk about them with your friends, but it’s another thing to actually have a platform to go out and implement these ideas,” Hampton said.

One great aspect of Improve NU, according to Wade, is how it provides a more accessible shortcut through the red tape and application processes typically associated with implementing projects through student groups like The Garage or ASG.

“There are ways to make change, but we thought it wasn’t open to everyone,” Wade said. “Improve NU was created to provide a platform for every student to make change if they want to.”

Wade said that it’s vital for administration to lend an ear to student perspectives, and it’s Improve NU’s mission to facilitate that discourse.

“While administrators are important, we think students are the ones who live on this campus every day,” he said. “They breathe, eat and sleep Northwestern, and we think they have the best ideas on how to improve Northwestern.”