CLDP Student Harper Martin, team receives Social Responsibility Award at 2024 Make-A-Thon

At the end of January, first-year Chancellor’s Leadership Development Program student Harper Martin and his team received the Best Integration of Social Responsibility Award at the 2024 Make-A-Thon.

Make-A-Thon is NC State’s three-day sustainability innovation competition. Collaborating in cross-disciplinary teams, students research, design and prototype solutions to a sustainability challenge, then pitch their idea to campus and industry judges. This year, 250 students on 62 teams participated in the competition.

Martin, a freshman computer engineering major, worked with three other teammates: Rachel Giles (senior communications major), Luke Heinze (freshman industrial engineering major), and Jaden Hilbert (a senior biology major).

The sustainability challenge that they chose to focus on was inadequate access to feminine hygiene products in Africa. In Ghana, where many women don’t have access to clean feminine hygiene products, one of the country’s invasive plant species could be used to produce eco-friendly and non-toxic menstrual pads that would be available at distribution centers around the country. The team’s goal was to ideate a solution to increase accessibility to feminine products in the country.

“The solution we came up with was a process to extract the cellulose from invasive plant species, especially in Ghana, to turn it into paper and hygiene products that could then be distributed in the country,” Martin said. “[Our solution ensured that] the inputs were coming from the country, it was produced in the country, and it was distributed in the country.”

According to Martin, his teammate Rachel knew about the issue from a personal connection, and pitched it to the team. While the team saw success in their end result, they did encounter various challenges as they worked to pitch their solution. However, their conscious effort to create a socially responsible output helped them navigate their problem-solving process.

Harper and his team at the 2024 Make-A-Thon competition.

“Halfway on Saturday [during the competition], we almost ditched the idea, but we persevered and came up with solutions to the problems we were encountering. When we were going through the process, we almost ditched the idea because we wanted to make sure this was a solution that we were not imposing on other countries,” Martin said. “This is something that we wanted them to be a part of. When it comes to social responsibility, you don’t want to overstep your boundaries so [this experience] taught me more about this and how deep it is. It can make or break an idea if it is not socially responsible,” Martin said “The idea can be useless.”

The concept of social responsibility is also one of the key programming efforts CLDP students learn about within the program.

“I feel like CLDP has taught me a lot about looking at things from different perspectives,” Martin said. “Hearing things from multiple lenses and perspectives, which I have learned through CLDP – especially the SLC 102 course I took last semester, really helped me in this project.”

One of the best parts of the competition, according to Martin, is its interdisciplinary nature, which is something that Martin feels strengthened their ideation and pitching process. Per Make-A-Thon rule, each team must be composed of students from at least two different colleges. Martin’s team represented three colleges. Their team of four consisted of two freshmen and two seniors and the group’s majors spanned computer engineering, industrial engineering, biology and communications.

“It was interesting to see how all the disciplines came together, especially for this idea,” Martin said. “For Rachel and her communications degree, she researched the problem, pitched the problem to us and was able to truly formulate what the problem was and its causes. The biology major, Jaden, was able to research the process for how we can take invasive species, extract their cellulose and turn it into something useful. Through industrial engineering and that mindset, Luke was able to research the process of harvesting, producing, and distributing. For me, I had an economics exam the next Tuesday. So I spent the weekend studying econ and making the argument as to why this is economically feasible. Seeing all of that come together was pretty cool, and it made a strong pitch.”

Martin, who in addition to being a member of CLDP is also a Park Scholar, stressed the importance of working with such a great team.

“We truly worked together in all of this. If one of us were not there, it would not have been possible. We went into this project just for fun. We didn’t expect to win,” Martin said “Going in with the mindset of just having fun and then coming out with a prize was pretty cool, especially as a freshman. It gets me excited for the next four years.”

When asked if he plans to participate in Make-A-Thon next year, Martin shared, “I think I will. It was a great experience.”