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Morgan Students Go ‘Xtreme’ with Green Innovation

Group Designs Unique Phone App to Encourage Campus Recycling

Two years ago, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous congratulated the Class of 2009 at Morgan State University’s 133rd Commencement, saying, “You will forever carry the badge of honor as the generation that changed the world before it graduated.”

More recent events are proving that Generation Y at Morgan is still upholding the banner of positive change. A new organization on campus is harnessing the brainpower, idealism and fearlessness of members from many academic disciplines to come up with innovations to enhance the campus and the world.

It all started with a can of pomegranate soda.

Timothy Akers, Ph.D., Morgan’s interim associate dean for graduate studies research, explains that he was looking for students to help create some new ideas using funding from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant the University had received in 2008.  Last January, he brought a talented biology major named Vladimir Celestin into his office in the Dixon Science Research Center to talk about ways to get MSU students to “explode their thinking.”

As the two brainstormed, Celestin eyed the can of pomegranate water that Dr. Akers was about to finish off.

“May I have that can, Doc?” he asked. “I really believe in recycling.”

But once he had the object in hand, where would Celestin take it? As he explained to Dr. Akers, “There was a lack of emphasis on recycling here on our campus, and there was a lack of notification about where to go to recycle and how to do it correctly.”

“That triggered an idea,” Dr. Akers recalls. “I asked him, ‘How are you about working with apps for cell phones and things like that?’ ”

The solution that came out of their meeting was to organize a group of MSU students to create a mobile phone application that would send alerts to the users’ phones when they were in the proximity of recycling units on campus. The high-tech solution would also require the development of special transceivers to transmit signals from the recycling units and receive signals back from the cell phones.

Celestin took up the challenge with characteristic gusto and soon had a group of 13 other students with majors ranging from history to industrial engineering to work on the problem. The group was officially established on Feb. 4, 2011 and called itself Xtreme, to highlight its commitment to “extreme thinking.” Morgan Xtreme’s mission is to “embrace complexity, explode thinking and learning and undertake an Xtreme challenge by conceptualizing, designing, developing and implementing Xtreme innovations for the marketplace.” The mission statement promises that, “Failure will never be criticized but embraced.”

Nathan Scott, a junior computer science major, wrote the Java code for the application, which works on Android phones. The other students worked on other aspects of the project, including marketing, advertising and construction of the recycling units. Michel Reece, Ph.D., MSU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, leaped at the opportunity to help the students with the development of their transceiver.

On April 29, they successfully demonstrated their technology on the campus’ Verda Welcome Bridge. The group has filed a disclosure for their invention, the first step toward filing a patent.

Celestin, Morgan’s Outstanding Male Junior this year, says Morgan Xtreme is being built to last.

“First we’re going to show the whole campus what we do. I’m talking about in the very near future, next semester,” he says. “And afterwards we’re going to be looking at different ways to introduce more students into the organization. That way the young, brilliant ‘extreme thinkers’ that will be coming into Morgan will continue the cycle every year, and it will have no choice but to continue getting better and better and better.”

Also in the planning are an annual Morgan Xprize Challenge competition, in which students will design and develop innovative, transdisciplinary projects; development of products to promote Morgan Xtreme and the Xprize Challenge; and a fundraising campaign for the organization and the event. Dr. Akers says some companies have already expressed a desire to underwrite the group’s efforts.

“There is a hunger here, not just on Morgan State’s campus but across the country for innovation,” Celestin says, “and it takes certain groups of people, like Morgan Xtreme, to come together and address problems and come up with solutions to them.”

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