Big Ideas Challenge

collage of photos representing the challenges.

Big Ideas Challenge

The University of Delaware seeks to support faculty and student teams to develop and create innovative solutions to critical societal problems through the extracurricular Big Ideas Challenge program. 

Guided by the vital conditions framework, the Big Ideas Challenge program brings together interdisciplinary teams to conduct user-centered research, engage in design-thinking, and pursue the development of innovative solutions to promote conditions for the optimal health, well-being and thriving of all people.  Vital conditions include physical necessities such as healthful and sufficient food, humane housing, clean water and a sustainable natural environment; psychosocial factors such as a sense of belonging and agency; sociocultural factors such as lifelong learning and civic muscle; and economic factors such reliable transportation, meaningful work and wealth. While the challenges being addressed may be local in scope, their solutions will be global in their impact. 


Four challenges are being considered by the 2024-2025 BIC Scholars. These challenges are representative of the areas of Climate Change, Fintech, Health & Well-being, and Performance and Rehabilitation.


The Big Ideas Challenge program is an extracurricular program running from Fall through the end of the Spring semester each academic year.

A fall kick-off event (~week 3 Fall semester), showcases the program challenges; students are invited to form/join interdisciplinary teams to begin working to solve the problem that most inspires them. 

Teams begin their work with primary, secondary and user-centered research aimed at developing a rich understanding and clear definition of their chosen problem, including the delineation of multiple problem causes, their interaction(s), the resulting negative effects, and initial thoughts about how to develop a promising solution. Teams are guided in this work by a general session on problem understanding as well as program mentors. The culmination of this initial work is a “white paper” presentation at a fall showcase event held in the last week in October or first week in November. A panel of judges evaluate each team’s presentation, and a small number of teams are selected to advance to the second program phase of solution development.

Advancing teams are guided in their work by a general session on the conduct of design sprints as well as a project-specific faculty mentor. Teams receive seed funding, access to consulting expertise to support solution development and prototyping, as well as stipends to support their efforts during Winter Session. Participating students may also choose to enroll in one of several Winter Session or Spring semester courses to support advancing solution development. 

Undergraduate students advancing to this Phase II of the program will be considered Undergraduate Research Winter Fellows as part of UD's Undergraduate Research Program.

Finalist teams present their solutions at a Big Ideas Challenge Finale event (2nd week in April) where the top team will be awarded funding to implement and/or further develop their solutions in partnership with the sponsoring/originating organization.

Benefits to participation

The program is designed to empower thoughtful, creative, and innovative students and faculty who have a strong desire to make the world a better place through creative problem solving, design, innovation, and systems-based approaches. 

Students can leverage their participation to gain distinguishing experience in design thinking, innovation, creativity, teamwork, and new product development. 

Faculty can leverage their participation to support subsequent SBIR/STTR grant applications, contribute to their meritorious scholarship and entrepreneurship performance, and develop interdisciplinary collaborations.

Teams who advance to the solution development phase of the program will be awarded $5000 to support this process. Each student in the team will be provided a $1500 stipend, and the mentoring faculty a $2500 contribution to discretionary funds.  

The Big Ideas Challenge 2024  winning team will be awarded a $10,000 prize to advance their solution toward translation.  


Industry-University Partnership Opportunities

The University of Delaware seeks industry partners with a shared commitment to promoting conditions for the optimal health, well-being and thriving of all people.

The Big Ideas Challenge brings together interdisciplinary teams of UD students to develop promising solutions to urgent real-world problems by conducting user-centered research, engaging in design-thinking, and creating and testing innovative prototypes. Problem domains relate to the vital conditions framework and include:

  1. climate change & environmental sustainability, 
  2. financial technology for advancing equity & economic well-being, and 
  3. health, well-being & performance. 

The Big Ideas Challenge focuses on local problems with the aim of developing solutions with the potential for global impact.

Steering Committee

BIC Chair

Freda Patterson

Associate Dean of Research
College of Health Sciences
BIC Co-Chair

Tracy Shickel

Associate Vice President,
Corporate Engagement

Katya Roelse

Instructor, Fashion and Apparel Program
College of Arts & Sciences

Dan Sarkissian

Assistant Vice President,
Development and Principal Gifts

Eric Wommack

Senior Associate Vice President for Research
Research Office
BIC Co-Chair

Charles Swanick

Deputy Dean
College of Health Sciences

Elise Arch

Associate Professor, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology
College of Health Sciences

Rosalie Rolón-Dow

Faculty Director
Undergraduate Research Program

Dana Veron

Professor and Co-Director
Gerard J. Mangone Climate Change Science and Policy Hub
BIC Co-Chair

Dan Freeman

Founding Director
Horn Entrepreneurship

Barbra Ferrell

PhD Student, Bioinformatics Data Science
Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Sarah Rooney

Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
College of Engineering

Dan Watson

Deputy Athletic Director
Sport Performance & Campus Recreation