Guest Post: “My ICON 2016”

The following post is taken from reflections by Ena Ristic – a Biological Sciences student who began her Winter 2016 ICON experience by registering for last fall’s Feeding 9 Billion challenge. The reflections were written earlier this semester. Working on a team that included students studying food science, computer science, nutraceutical science, and english, she helped develop the Food Survival Guide app. You can read the original posts here.

Author: Ena Ristic

How did you first get involved with ICON?

My enrolment in this semester’s ICON course began with participation in the Feeding 9 Billion challenge, an overnight ‘hack-a-thon’ style event that challenged students to find sustainable solutions to food waste on our campus. I’ll be honest, my motivation for the event was largely academic – a teacher had not so subtly bribed my attendance with the promise of bonus marks. I was actually quite terrified to try something like this, it was so new and completely out of my comfort zone, but I’m so grateful that I took the plunge.

What were your experiences with the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge?

I actually went into the challenge with an App idea, a rudimentary version of what would become our final project. I think the most amazing moment in the contest was when I heard a future fellow team member, Sathi, talking about the same idea to another student. How awesome was that? That two people who had never met came up with the exact same idea?

The original idea for the application was simple: a program on your phone in which you could input the food you purchased and which would later remind you that it was near its expiry date.  The app was expanded to include simple recipe ideas, food storage tips, sales at local grocery stores, food safety tips, nutritional information and cocktail ideas. Through a combination of luck and hard work, we managed to win the Feeding 9 Billion challenge! I couldn’t believe it, there were so many amazing ideas and participants. It really felt like we had accomplished something by coming out on top1.

What can you say about your ICON experience so far?

I’m going to be honest here, ICON is the weirdest course I have ever been in, but I say that in a very positive way. It’s delightfully unstructured. For a science student whose discipline relies on heavy structure and form, it was an unsettling relief. It’s been a little hard to think outside of my little biological science box (who knew everyone in the universe wasn’t a science student?), but I think the skills I learn here will be very applicable for the future. The real money in sciences is in the collaboration with different streams and businesses, and if you can’t communicate you won’t get anywhere. I’m excited to see what it’s like to do something so unique and foreign. It worked well for the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge, so I have high hopes for this as well.


1 On a side note, one of the prizes for winning the Feeding 9 Billion challenge was the opportunity to be a part of the Startup Stories event hosted by InnovationGuelph . A two-day event, it explored the best way to communicate our App’s ‘story’ to a market. The biggest thing it highlighted for me was the restraints of working on this project while in school. The other participants were working on their businesses as full-time jobs, but here we were expected to do so while attending school. This is a very fundamental reason why I wanted to do ICON as it would give us a structured time and motivation to really get the App up and going without compromising our schoolwork. Isn’t that what education should be about? Getting to try what you’re passionate about while learning new skills?

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