U of A Student Teams Unveil Projects at McMillon Innovation Studio Demo Day

U of A Student Teams Unveil Projects at McMillon Innovation Studio Demo Day
Cari Humphry

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Undaunted by the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 student teams in the McMillon Innovation Studio unveiled their ideas and prototypes at Demo Day on April 27. 

Using human-centered design principles and grounded in intensive customer discovery, the students tackled a range of emerging problems identified through partnerships with industry, non-profits, and across campus. Their projects ranged from strengthening COVID-19 outreach campaigns to reimagining restaurant innovation to supporting minority-owned businesses.  

They focused on emerging problems across the university as well, like how students can cultivate intentional relationships to have a sense of belonging on campus and improving the digital learning environment to foster a personal connection. 

"This last year has brought about so much change that it was a natural shift for many students to want to tackle issues related to the on-campus student experience, sustainability initiatives, and topics around diversity, equity and inclusion," said Justin Urso, director of the Studio. 

"It's important that students are active and interested in the projects they are working on, therefore we are open to many different ways of engagement within the studio." 

Urso added that the Studio provides "a playground for innovation." 

Seven design teams and three Launch Lab teams presented to peers, mentors, and the wider community at this year's Demo Day. 

The design teams consist of U of A students and a mentor seeking to go from problem to prototype to solve problems in food, healthcare and retail.  

The Launch Lab, meanwhile, is intended for students who have an idea for a product or service and want to explore how to bring it to the market. 

Overall, nearly 50 students representing 24 majors participated in this year's Studio. They were aided by 14 industry mentors. 

"With Demo Day proving to be a success we are also receiving lots of student interest about joining the Studio this fall," Urso said.  

"We are excited to open up this fall semester to have 14 design teams and will be welcoming students with ideas of their own as well as our traditional design teams model of working on real-world problems posed by external partners." 

​​2021 design teams: 

Sooiet Spot 

  • Scope: How might we help underclassmen at the U of A cultivate intentional relationships so that they can find a sense of belonging? 

  • Project leads: Gabi Gifford, senior, Walton College 

  • Team: Jose Torres, freshman, Walton College; Ethan Potts, sophomore, honors College of Engineering; Steven Trinh, senior, College of Engineering; Collin Smith, senior, School of Journalism and Strategic Media  

  • Mentor: Deb Williams, director of student programs, Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

Small Business Restaurant Innovation 

  • Scope: How might we reimagine the model for underrepresented minority business owners to provide accessible resources and financial stability?  

  • Project leads: Daniela Salonen, senior, Walton College; Natalie Clancy, junior, Fay Jones School 

  • Team: Wilson Strange, junior, Walton College; Caleb Elkington Strauss, sophomore, Walton College; Darby Jenkins, junior, Fay Jones School; Shantal Sarmiento, senior, honors College of Engineering  

  • Mentors: Catherine Corley, business consultant, Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center; Mary Beth Brooks, director, ASBTDC 


  • Scope: How might we help Johnson and Johnson's supply chain improve their on-time-delivery performance in turn, improving on time in full? 

  • Project lead: Kristofer Anderson, sophomore, Walton College 

  • Team: Mackenzie Scott, junior, Walton College; Peyton Koman, senior, College of Engineering; Monica Uribe, senior, Walton College; Toma Tomonari, senior, College of Engineering; Sydney Busfield, junior, Walton College 

  • Mentors: Chris Hamburger, director of customer logistics, Johnson & Johnson; Ariana Tay, business analyst, J&J, Kyle Hart, project intern, J&J  

Arkansas COVID en Espanol: Latinx Community Outreach 

  • Scope: How might we increase COVID-19 news awareness in the Arkansas Latinx community through outreach, so that people are equipped with most up-to-date information? 

  • Project leader: Juan Mendez, senior, Walton College 

  • Team: Mariela Estrada, senior, Fulbright College; Anusha Bhattacharyya, senior, honors College of Engineering; Rae Woods, junior, honors Walton College; Bhumi Patel, junior, Walton College  

  • Mentors: Dr. Robert Wells, assistant professor, School of Journalism and Strategic Media; Dr. Clare Brown, assistant professor, Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health    


  • Scope: How might we develop a better digital learning environment that fosters personal connection? 

  • Project leader: Alexa Dalluge, senior, College of Engineering 

  • Team: Jack Norris, sophomore, College of Engineering; Nadia Barbarawi, junior, Walton College; Paxton Liebbe, junior, Walton College; Brooke Lawson, junior, Walton College; Shel-Twon Warren, sophomore, College of Engineering 

  • Mentors: Don Nix, director, U of A ASAP Bridge and 360 Advising Programs; Jessica Sheets, assistant director, U of A Transfer Student & Nontraditional Student Success; Danielle Dunn, associate director, U of A Student Success; Trevor Francis, director, Student Success 

Harmony Consulting 

  • Scope: How might we help underrepresented communities feel valued, visible and engaged in the community? 

  • Project leader: Raquel Thompson, sophomore, Walton College 

  • Team: Carter Kirkland, junior, Walton College; Cullum Clampitt, senior, Walton College; Wenjie Zhu, senior, Fay Jones School; Virginia Hammond, junior, Fay Jones School  

  • Mentor: Jerra Nalley, director, Leisurlist 

Jeggy Packaging 

  • Scope: How might we reduce the risk with eggs so that home bakers are confident their eggs are cooked safely every time? 

  • Project leader: Hayley Felkins, senior, College of Engineering  

  • Team: Annette Benbrook, junior, honors College of Engineering; Matt Moore, senior, Walton College; Ben Walworth, junior, honors Walton College; Matthew Basler, senior, College of Engineering; Kennedy Dolan, senior, Walton College 

  • Mentor: Whitney Fortin, director of new product development, Happy Egg Co. 

2021 launch lab teams: 

Gas Pump Project — Julia Davis, senior, Walton College; Mary Pham, junior, honors Walton College 

  • Veterans of Enactus and the Social Innovation Challenge, the team behind the Gasoline Runoff Project, have created a nozzle attachment to prevent gas spills at the pump. Their research revealed that small spills can be just as devastating to the environment and the people running the gas station. They are testing a prototype that is cheap to produce and doesn't hinder fueling speed compared to current technology. 

Omni Furniture — Logan White, junior, Walton College; Grace Blasi, senior, Fay Jones School; Taylor Decarlo, senior, School of Art; Hannah Peevey, senior, Fay Jones School; Mackenzie Lemon, senior, Fay Jones School; Davis Hogue, junior, marketing

  • A new furniture concept that allows for interchangeable and customizable pieces to easily move and create customizable furniture.  

Sustainable Concrete — Maddie Heal, senior, Sam M. Walton College of Business 

  • Maddie Heal's product addresses the world's growing need for infrastructure with a green form of concrete. The new material would be made using fly ash and recycled plastics to create sustainable concrete mixtures. This approach will also ensure that non-biodegradable waste doesn't get dumped in landfills. 

About McMillon Innovation Studio: The McMillon Innovation Studio exists to shape the future of commerce by developing and enabling students to be catalysts of innovation. The studio hosts interdisciplinary student collaboration teams and provides prototyping space for students and faculty across campus to connect and create together. Inside the studio, students have access to  makerspace tools like CAD modeling and 3D printers, as well as a band saw, drill press, CNC and sewing machine. 

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new. 


Brandon Howard,
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
479-418-4803, bjhoward@uark.edu


U of A Bands to Hold Three Nights of Concerts

The Symphonic Band, the Wind Symphony, the 4 O'Clock and 5 O'Clock Bands and the Wind Ensemble will perform April 21-23 at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center on the U of A campus.

Honors College to Host 'Best in Show' Dog Celebration

The campus and community are invited to celebrate our furry friends with popsicles, water and dog treats from 3-4 p.m. Thursday, April 25, in the Gearhart Courtyard.

New Parasite Affecting Canadian Partridges Named for Arkansas Poultry Scientist

A long-time colleague in Canada gave a newly found parasite the scientific name Eimeria hargisi in honor of U of A poultry science researcher Billy Hargis.

U of A School of Law Student Selected for Ms. J.D. Leadership Academy Intensive

Tristan Branstetter-Thomas, a second-year law student, was one of 30 students from across the country chosen to participate in the leadership academy at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago.

Needy Honored as Distinguished Alumna of University of Pittsburgh Engineering College

College of Engineering Dean Kim Needy was among seven alumni of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering honored in April as part of the 2024 Class of Distinguished Alumni.

News Daily