Video by Andrew Brett and photo by Kevin Quinlan November 29, 2016
Undergrad garners top prize in annual scientific elevator pitch competition
Jill Harland, a University of Delaware senior majoring in chemistry, was awarded the top prize at the third annual Pitch:90 competition on Nov. 12 in the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory.
Harland was one of 35 contestants, both graduate and undergraduate students, who attempted to impress a panel of 20 judges with their “elevator pitches” — short speeches about their research delivered without notes or props in 90 seconds or less.
The competition was open to students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) from UD and its partner institutions in Delaware, including Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and Wesley College.
Harland’s winning pitch described in colorful detail her work on the potential of ionic liquids, or salts that occur in liquid form at room temperature, to capture carbon dioxide and possibly help reduce the buildup of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Harland has conducted her research in the lab of John Newberg, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, for two years. She is currently supported in an undergraduate research internship through the DENIN Environmental Scholars program.
“Research is my passion,” Harland said. “It involves ingenuity, hard work, long hours, will power and creativity, but research has little impact unless it can be effectively communicated.”
Harland, who hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, plans to pursue a doctorate in bioinorganic synthesis after graduation. She believes that every scientist can benefit from the experience that programs like Pitch:90 provide.
“Pitch:90 creates an environment where your communication skills can be honed and practiced with one of the most encouraging audiences out there — contestants, staff and science enthusiasts that really want to see everyone succeed,” she said. “I strongly urge everyone, at every level, to take advantage of this fantastic program.”
Pitch:90 contestants are provided with assistance in developing their pitches through small-group coaching sessions prior to the competition. In addition, this year theatre professor and member of UD’s Resident Ensemble Players Steve Tague gave a seminar for the contestants, providing an actor’s perspective on connecting with an audience.
“I was so impressed by this year’s contestants,” said DENIN Director Don Sparks. “Each year, we’ve seen the overall quality of the pitches go up. The judges have a difficult job, so we’re very grateful to them for participating.”
Monetary prizes were awarded to the top five pitches and to an audience favorite, determined by secret ballot at the close of the competition. In addition to the top prize for Harland, the following students received awards:
• Mark Griesinger, graduate student in economics, second place;
• Joshua Sanchez, graduate student in plant and soil sciences, third place;
• Emily Ruhl, graduate student in marine science, fourth place;
• Sierra Schirtzinger, undergraduate in environmental studies, fifth place; and
• Kristin Yoshimura, graduate student in marine science, audience favorite.
Videos of the winning pitches and the entire competition may be viewed on the Delaware EPSCoR YouTube channel.