Contest promotes teamwork, soybean innovations
By Darci Kirby
Job opportunities and a chance to win nearly $5,000 are just some of the benefits of participating in a Purdue University contest aimed at finding new markets for soybean production.
Photo provided by Tom Campbell
Soybean contest winners from 2002 Melinda Durack, Amanda Stewart, Rylie Vance and Brian Costigan show off the soy marker creation that won first prize. The ink from this product is made with 25 percent soy product.
Soy-based lip balm, crayons, biodegradable ski wax, candles, economical hydraulic fuel and cereal have been some of the past Purdue students' winning creations, and many of them have been marketed nationally. The soy crayons, developed by Purdue students Don Rote, Jocelyn Wong and Thomas Chang in 1994, have been the most widely marketed creation.
The crayons are made with all-natural, biodegradable soybean oil instead of petroleum-derived paraffin. "Kids eat the crayons and don't get sick," said Lee Schweitzer, founder of the soybean contest and professor of agronomy at Purdue.
The "Earth Colors" crayons sparked publicity for the contest, and Purdue has received international recognition. The contest's creations have been discussed on Paul Harvey's news radio show, The British Broadcasting Channel and Disney Channel, and articles have appeared in numerous publications.
Schweitzer said the three students who created "Earth Colors" were also rewarded with excellent career opportunities. Upon graduation, one of the students was employed to do product development for Proctor and Gamble.
First-place winners receive $4,800, second-lace get $2,400 and third receive $1,500. "Through this competition, funds from Indiana soybean growers are used subsidize student creativity and innovation," said Schweitzer. "In the process these students have had an excellent opportunity to broaden their education through applied problem solving on interdisciplinary teams."
The contest was developed by Schweitzer in 1993, and Bernard Tao, associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering, currently directs the contest. "This competitiion encourages students to develop entrepreneurial skills and exercise their knowledge and skills in product development using biomaterials," Tao said.
The contest is open to any full-time student at Purdue and tries to forge bonds between different majors. Tao said that the creation of the product also involves marketing, information gathering and working with the media. A press conference is usually held in Indianapolis, Ind., Tao said. The students get experience with public relations in addition to developing marketing skills.
Getting students to involve themselves in an extracurricular project that takes so much work is a big part of the competition. "You're asking for quite a commitment from the students," Schweitzer said.
Tao said that the working phase is around three to four months and each team works about 10 hours a week. This is why Tao insists that teams must have at least three people. "There are a lot more things that go into creating a product than just the technical part," he said. "A team needs to have different sets of abilities."