How Undergraduate Students Are Solving the World’s Toughest Challenges

zining chen with fuqua classmates

Sophomore Zining Chen worked for months preparing for this moment on her campus at Carnegie Mellon. Now, she sat in front of a group of business leaders at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, explaining her business plan for how to use artificial intelligence to better train machine learning models to prevent gender bias in algorithms.

“The competition was an extraordinary chance for me, not only to present my idea,  but also to immerse myself in an environment filled with innovation,” Chen said.

Chen was participating in the second annual “New Ideas” pitch competition hosted by The Dialogue Project at Duke in which undergraduate students compete for a chance to visit Fuqua and get feedback on their business ideas about how to reduce polarization and improve civil discourse. The finalists also spend time learning from Fuqua entrepreneurship experts and Duke student-entrepreneurs during their two-day experience.

fuqua student presenting in front of people

Matt Clemons, assistant dean for admissions at Fuqua, helps facilitate the competition. Clemons said there was a 200% increase in applications from the first competition and selecting the 10 finalists was a tough job.

“Applicants did a wonderful job of weaving in the themes of using business as a force for good and addressing political polarization in society,” Clemons said.

Bob Feldman, founder of the Dialogue Project, who led communications and corporate marketing at DreamWorks Animation among other senior marketing roles, was one of the panelists who gave feedback to finalists. He said he was impressed with the range of ideas presented.

“The intellect and energy behind each student, all added up to a powerful, productive, inspiring morning,” Feldman said.

In addition to Chen’s ideas, other presentations included:  preserving culture through language, creating community and dialogue through small businesses,  providing solutions for food deserts, bridging digital divides in public school systems, combating misinformation on social media platforms, and teaching sustainability practices in childhood.

Clemons said a particularly resonant moment for him was receiving a text during this year’s competition from a participant last year sharing recent success and attributing it to her experience at the “New Ideas” competition.

fuqua staff member presenting in front of people

“My hope is that we can build a network and sense of community,” Clemons said.  “Any opportunity to that provides a practical way for people to explore ideas that are important to them is valuable.”

Feldman said the fresh thinking that came from the students is exactly the type of creativity in using business as force for good that The Dialogue Project hopes to foster.

“You couldn’t be in the room with this group and not be inspired,” Feldman said. “These future captains of industry came from many different backgrounds and life experiences, yet they had much in common: a powerful work ethic, a striking balance of long-term vision with the need for short term action, and a personal style that made you want to root for them to achieve their dreams. Thanks to every one of these students, I left the day totally energized about our future.”