Reflection: Green Acres Foundation
Our class traveled to the Green Acres Foundation, a local nonprofit educational farm that has three working
beehives in order to get a firsthand look at the process of pollination and the role of bees in farming. All of the food grown in the gardens and the abundant wildflowers on the property are pollinated by honey bees, native bee species such as bumblebees and mason bees, and other pollinators such as wasps, butterflies, beetles, and more. We learned so much in such a short period of time that I couldn't fit all of the information into my reflection, even if it is an extra-long infographic, but it shows a small portion of the deeper understanding the experience gave me about the delicate process of beekeeping and the challenges that beekeepers face as well as the importance of bees, both to humans and the entire ecosystem. Readings and documentaries might be able to show the scope of the problem, but it was difficult for me to truly understand it until I saw bees at work pollinating and collecting nectar with my own eyes.
Reflection: Live Well Collaborative and Makerspace at 1819 Innovation Hub
Two days after the Green Acres trip, we made another trip as a class to the
soon-to-be-opened 1819 Innovation Hub to tour and meet with representatives from both the Live Well Collaborative, a design collaborative between the university and Proctor & Gamble, and the makerspace, an area with a wide variety of high-tech machines available for students to use for any type of class or personal project one can imagine (once it officially opens). Both of these experiences enhanced my learning from the class and the readings we have done outside of class. The Live Well Collaborative gave us a chance to see the design model (seen to the right) we have discussed in class in action, successfully bringing innovative products to market across many fields, including healthcare and aviation. Before this trip, the design process had been much more of an abstract concept than a concrete road to product development or solutions to "wicked problems", but it solidified as a real-world technique as we were shown just how it is used at the Live Well Collaborative. The Collaborative does fascinating research and product design, and it has co-op positions for engineers, so maybe in a few semesters I'll be back... I certainly wouldn't be opposed to paying them another visit, especially if I decide to stay on the biomedical track.
The makerspace was amazing; they have such a wide variety of machinery for
any project you can imagine, big or small, and any student can use it. It should be an engineering student's paradise, but initially all I could feel was overwhelmed. Naturally artistic people are lucky; it's so easy for them to be creative. But if you're like me, lacking in artistic ability, the way you get to be creative is by having technical skills, and if I'm being honest, I really don't have any. I'm pretty sure that I'm the only first year student in the class, so I'm at a disadvantage, since I haven't learned any CAD or had any hands-on experience using 3-D printers or lathes or digital scanners or pretty much anything else since I didn't ever have the chance in high school with my full schedule. I came back from the makerspace intimidated, but a few days were all it took for me to turn that into determination to change the facts. I know now that I have to take advantage of this opportunity to use these resources while they are available to me here at UC, so I've set a goal to use the makerspace for a personal project at least once each year and learn how to use a new machine each year, since they offer training for students in the same situation as me. I know that soon we are going to be introduced to CAD using different programs in some of my classes, and I am excited to get started now after reflecting changed my perspective.
Reflection: Book Club and Fishbowl Discussion
10/2/2018 and 11/6/2018
Our first group project in Sticky Innovation was a book club, which I was
honestly excited about, since we had a choice in what book we were reading and it gave me the opportunity to sit back and read, something I've hardly had time to do since my early years of high school (and I certainly haven't had time to read anything but assigned chapters from textbooks and texts since starting college). And the book, Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson, was really just an enjoyable read; I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an engaging nonfiction book, even if you're not passionate about bees. The author keeps even the most scientific pieces interesting, intersperses them with entertaining narratives, and builds a fascinating argument in support of utilizing a resource that most people, specifically farmers, have overlooked– native bees, instead of non-native honeybees, which suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder and can be disruptive to ecosystems when they are introduced, out-competing native species. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and believe me when I say that I don't say that about most assigned readings.
After reading, our book club put together a discussion-based
presentation about the book and our learning from it. We chose a few talking points from each section and just let the discussion flow among the members of the group, which worked even better than we were expecting. We easily could have kept going for another 10 minutes past the time limit of 25 minutes, but unfortunately we were at the end of the period and were cut off when class ended. Still, I felt as though we covered all of the major themes of Hanson's book in our presentation and came away feeling satisfied with the work we had done and with the quality of the presentation. The discussion-based format allowed for all of the group members to play a significant role and demonstrate deep thinking about the content and themes of the book and prepared us for upcoming projects, focusing on possible solutions to colony collapse disorder and the crisis facing bees and humans alike if current trends continue. The slides we prepared for the discussion can be found here.
A month after the book club presentations finished, we spent a day having "fishbowl discussions" in three
groups, during which one group had a discussion and the other class members observed silently, which could be frustrating at times when I had my own opinions or wanted to fact-check somebody in the discussion group. Each group was presented with their own "provocation", and each group had their own ambiance as their discussion unfolded. The first group's discussion became a little heated at several points as they discussed the role of capitalism in bees' decline and exploitation by humans and the value of animal rights in a capitalistic society. They presented some interesting points but struggled to come to a consensus on any points and posed some questions to each other that none of them could truly answer. The second group's discussion was mostly agreeable and presented many novel ideas, though they explored few in detail, perhaps a result of the time limit and slightly awkward situation of being thrust into the discussion with only your prior knowledge to guide you in responding to the provocation. I would have liked to encourage them to dive deeper into some of the proposals they made about replacing bees, such as their suggestion that making something to protect bees the "default" so that it would be easier for people to do, which may have been a great idea had they followed through with it and considered its merits and flaws and how it could be potentially accomplished, but ended up being confusing to me as an outside observer because it was picked up and dropped too quickly and never explained in depth. The experience of observing the discussion was interesting, because it showed the creativity and strong personalities present in our class and posed many ideas that I noted that will help in determining the feasibility and function of our final project, on which we recently started work. Even though sometimes it was difficult to sit back and just listen when I wanted to weigh in on the discussion, I felt that listening allowed me to better understand other people's point of view and see their though process in action. I participated in the final discussion, for the provocation "Are fiction and film Arts-Based Research? Do fictional works have to be scientifically accurate? What knowledge do fiction/film generate? Why are they produced? How are they effective (or not)?" We made the effort to answer all of the questions, but they were mostly just employed as guides for the progression of our discussion. I'd be the first to admit this provocation would not have been my first choice, as I have a much better understanding of the plights facing bees and human roles in their destruction and conservation, which the other two provocations addressed, than I do of arts-based research. This seemed to be the case for most of the discussion group, as the most difficult part for us as a whole was defining arts-based research and understanding how it can be utilized and applied in fiction and film. It is an abstract concept that is difficult to conceptualize, especially considering that most of us are engineering students, not art students. But wrapping my head around that abstract concept and putting it in to words in the discussion brought me to new revelations about the value of film and fiction in driving societal knowledge and pushing for change in our world. Our group's discussion remained civilized, but was much more conceptual and less driven by fact that the other groups' discussion, which followed the conceptual themes of the provocation. As a whole, we came to the conclusion that film and fiction can be arts-based research, but the creator has to make the conscious decision to use the medium to perform and present their research, so very few works can actually be considered arts-based research. Participating the discussion could be difficult, especially in the beginning as we were just getting started and finding the dynamic of the group, but once we all fell into the rhythm of the discussion, it became easier, even though the discussion lasted 25 minutes and was timed, so there was a sense of pressure at the beginning that eventually fell away.
Reflection: Ideal Bee Project
Messing with evolution: just your typical day in ENED 3050. In small groups, we were asked to create the
"ideal" honeybee, really a fascinating thing to contemplate. After some brainstorming and debating, our group decided to focus on two traits to alter, the "fuzz" that covers the bee to provide warmth, protection, and allow for efficient pollen collection, the stinger, barbed and deadly to the bee when put to use, and one new organ to add, a liver, found in vertebrates but not bees. We proposed thickening the hair covering on the bee to make them more efficient at collecting pollen because more would stick to the thicker hair and less susceptible to Varroa mite infestations. Varroa mites are parasites that cling to the bees' thorax and abdomen, sucking their blood and transmitting viruses such as deformed wing virus. They can infect and kill entire colonies quickly. With thicker hair, it would be more difficult for the mites to cling to the bees and for them to bite through the hair to reach the bees' blood, thus increasing the honeybees' resistance to the mite. Our change to the stinger was to make it more similar in structure and function to a wasp's stinger. To do so, we removed the barbs that implant in the animal being stung and are torn out, which creates an abdominal wound in the bee that results in its death. By doing so, the bee could continue living after stinging, which would decrease losses to the hive if it were to come under duress, including when being tended by humans. We noted that this change in the biology of the honeybee could result in a behavioral change, namely that the bees could become more aggressive if they were able to sting multiple times. However, more aggressive species such as African bees tend to be hardier and more adaptable than the more docile honeybees, so this could be beneficial to the bees, though it could make it more difficult for humans to raise them or use them to pollinate crops. Our final and most influential change was the addition of the liver in a location similar to most vertebrates, near the stomach and honey stomach. The purpose of the liver would be to filter out toxins from the environment, such as pesticides, so that they would not harm the bee. We even suggested that the liver could secrete the toxins onto the skin to be used as an extra layer of protection from the Varroa mite. In order to have room for the liver in the abdomen, the bee would have to be slightly larger to account for the space taken up by the new organ.
After identifying the traits to change, we built a low-fidelity model out of household items, seen below.
Perhaps not the prettiest, but it was put together in less than a class period with only the supplies available! The yellow string was supposed to show that the hair was thicker. The stinger, which is hard to make out in the pictures, was made of a straight needle, which was smooth, not barbed. We made a model of the digestive tract of the bee out of clay, and added the liver, which is the yellow chunk of clay that is farthest to the left in the right picture. From the low-fidelity model, we learned that we wanted to create a cross section somehow, to showcase the digestive tract with the added liver. On the low-fidelity model, we accomplished this by cutting the cup that we used for the abdomen in half and putting our model of the digestive tract inside so that it could be see when the cup was opened.
In the periods following, we set to work on our final design. Originally, we were considering 3-D printing, and
we were certified to used the 3-D printers in the makerspace, but since we had to do a cross section, it was not a viable option, especially in the short amount of time we had to complete the project. With this in mind, we chose to use laser cutting to create our artifact. We were certified on the laser cutters in the makerspace (and I met my goal of learning to use a new machine in the makerspace that I'd set after our tour!) and used the program Illustrator to draw the bee anatomy, adding the liver, altering the stinger structure, and adding thicker hair along the top of the body. We used color mapping in our drawing, which instructs the laser cutter to make deeper etches, to highlight our changes. You can clearly see the result in the right image, in which the plastic covering on the clear acrylic was left on– the liver is the organ that is cut more deeply, just above the stomach. Unfortunately the pictures do not do the final product justice. It is neat, detailed, and professional– everything the low-fidelity model was not. But that was the purpose of creating the final artifact– to bring our original ideas to life in a professional fashion.
The project was a valuable experience in utilizing the makerspace's resources and working in a group to
create the model. While the changes we chose to make would likely not be viable in a real-world setting– it's not exactly realistic to just add a brand-new organ into a species that has evolved without that particular organ for millions of years– it was still intriguing to consider what changes we would make if we were not limited by such petty things as real-world biology. The exercise in imaginative thinking was punctuated by the questions of reality, particularly during our presentations, when our fellow students were able to ask questions, many of which focused on the viability of our changes, which allowed us to justify our choices and reason with real-world biology. This project was a learning experience in all its aspects, which I appreciated.
Reflection: Final Project
The culminating project of the semester was open-ended: use the knowledge gained over the length of the
course to innovate (reflecting the name of the class, of course). We took to the task in groups of 3. After some ideation and discussion, my group decided to create the model for a unique company– a subscription box for bee lovers. We called it "Bee Box", and the website can be found here. We had to put in a lot of initial research as a group to learn about the requirements for your average person to start their own beehive, and our first thought was to eliminate that work and reduce the high initial investment to encourage more people to get involved in beekeeping. As the research process continued, we decided to make three levels of boxes, one for people interested in keeping bees, the Beekeeper Box, one focused on promoting native bees for people's gardens, the Bee Gardener Box, and one for people who did not have the desire or ideal location to have bees present but still wanted to support the cause of saving bees from extinction, the Bee Advocate Box. We created a model of the hive that would be a part of the Beekeeper Box, a sample Bee Advocate Box, and the website, which features information on each box, forms to fill out to order each box, including a detailed Terms and Conditions in the Beekeeper Box (since there are live animals involved), details on customer service and links to organizations that promote bee and pollinator protection and responsible beekeeping. Bee Box was intended to be a nonprofit that would support organizations like those featured on the website in their mission of saving the bees.
The team worked well together, even if it seemed like we were all in our own little worlds much of the time
when we had time to work in class. This was because we divided the tasks that we wanted to see to completion among ourselves in order to use our time more efficiently. I worked mainly on the website, writing the descriptions on each page, creating the order forms, and putting the site together, which was somewhat of a new experience for me as I had never designed a website for a company before. I did my own research into successful subscription boxes and looked at plenty of websites as I built ours. I also learned about writing Terms and Conditions, which I can honestly say I never envisioned myself doing, but isn't part of being in the honors program being open to new experiences? I suppose so, though I can't say that was a particularly exciting one. Still, the entire process of planning the company was a valuable learning experience for our group of three engineers without business planning experience, and I now know more about what it takes to be a small-scale beekeeper than most people living in a dorm on an urban college campus can claim (I could start my own hive in the J-Plex quad, but that probably would not be met with the friendliest of receptions. Maybe when I move off campus.)
Our presentation was a pitch of the company that took place in front of a panel of experts. We prepared
slides that explained the wicked problems bees are facing and our goal of getting more people personally invested in their survival, the items that would be in each box, and the potential challenges that could face the company, including geographic differences that would change beekeeping, the difficulty of shipping the boxes, particularly the Beekeeper Box, which includes multiple large pieces of equipment and at one point live bees (which can be shipped via the USPS, but could still cause difficulties in the process), and the extensive customer service network that would need to be in place to answer customer questions, help customers with their bees and hives, and fix or cancel subscriptions. The presentation slides can be viewed here. The panel seemed to feel positively about the work we put into the project and the idea of the company, particularly the Bee Advocate Box, which they saw as having the most potential to reach people that might not have otherwise had any interest in the cause of protecting bees. They offered suggestions for moving forward with the company, which we could take as jumping points for continuing our research and translating it into a business model if we were to start the company in earnest, including finding suppliers for the goods in the boxes and how to market the box most successfully with a focus the nonprofit nature of the company and on the unwrapping experience (specifically the box design, which was suggested should be hexagonal). These suggestions from the panelists would be extremely beneficial if we were to proceed with the company, which we have considered, though we have not officially decided if we are going to do so. Regardless, the experience of creating the company and pitching it was amazingly rewarding in the insights it brought to me and my team and the way it pulled together everything we had learned from the class over the course of the semester to create something completely new. You could call it a Sticky Innovation.
Promoting Bee Conservation With a Subscription Box
There is a lack of public awareness of the plight of bees, a keystone species crucial to the survival of many
ecosystems and the pollination of many of the crops relied upon by people, which are facing extinction as a result of pesticides, parasites, lack of variety of food sources, climate change, and other factors, many of which are the result of human activities. Outside of beekeepers and environmentalists, few people realize the risks bees face. To encourage more people to become invested in the survival of bees, we created a subscription box company called Bee Box that allows people to benefit from supporting the cause. We designed a website that presented the different tiers that the company would offer, a mock hive for the tier that allows customers to keep their own honey bee hive, and a sample of the box designed for advocates of the cause in order to show what the company could become. We found that the concept of the company was well-received by a panel of experts, who recognized its potential to appeal to a wide audience that could support saving the bees. This inspired us to pursue further research into marketing the company and building relationships with suppliers and organizations that are currently working to protect bees.
The Sticky Innovation Honors Seminar was my introduction to honors seminar, occurring in the first
semester of my freshman year, and it was an invaluable experience that I will be able to carry forward throughout the rest of my time in UC's honors program. The class was an engineering and art combined class, which meant that, as an engineer, was introduced to a completely new perspective that I may never have considered without the class. Of course, the subject matter was fascinating for me, considering my interest in environmental preservation; the class focused on the "wicked problem" of bee population declines as a result of human activities, including such topics as the domestication of honeybees for crop pollination, human reliance on bees for food production, native bee species' struggles and importance in their ecosystem, possible routes for conservation, and potential alternatives in the face of losing bees altogether. However, it was not necessarily the subject matter that made this course unique; it was the focus on experience-based learning and application of the knowledge gained throughout the class, something that many courses tend to gloss over. It included a trip to Green Acres Foundation to see domesticated honeybees and native bee species at work, extensive use of the new Makerspace to create projects, and a final project in which each group designed a solution to some facet of the plight facing bees.
My group created a website for a hypothetical nonprofit that would sell subscription boxes focused on bee
conservation. The link, as well as documentation of all of the other projects we completed throughout the duration of the class, can be found in the reflections above. I am particularly proud of the website, as it represented not only a culmination of my learning from the course but also a chance to use creativity to offer a potential solution to a pressing real-world problem that I genuinely care about solving. The subscription box service even has viability as a startup if we were to pursue it, according to the expert panel to which we presented as our final. Overall, the value of this class as a part of my first-year experience in the honors program cannot be overstated.