Students’ Thrift Store plan wins annual Big Idea innovation contest

Clark University's Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) program recently announced the winners of this year’s U-Reka: The Big Idea Contest. The winning student-sponsored ideas: a campus thrift store, improved garden facilities, and a new radio program, were chosen in an online student vote as having the greatest potential to positively affect life in the Clark community.

The contest, sponsored annually by the I&E program, is open to all undergraduate students. A $5,000 prize is shared among finalists to support the launch of their "Big Idea."

First Place: The Clark Community Thrift Store, a retail outlet and resource for the Clark community and the surrounding area was proposed by Alexa Lightner '11 and Rachel Gerber '11. They were awarded $3,000 to create a store that will provide inexpensive college essentials, house wares, and gently used clothing to those without easy access to off-campus transportation, for students who cannot afford to purchase items new, and for anyone looking to discard used items easily, sustainably, and in a socially conscious way. Any profit the store makes will be donated to the Clark University Sustainability Initiative. The prize money provides the seed funds to launch the Thrift Store in late August, at 945 Main Street, a University-owned storefront across from the campus main gate.

* Lightner and Gerber talk about their thrift store project in a Clark Voices video interview.  

According to Amy Whitney, associate director of Clark's I&E program, the thrift store idea won because it "energized the student body and administration to support an idea that allows Clark students to give back to other students and the community. Clark students truly care about the environment and recycling and this concept gives students an outlet to donate their goods in a sustainable way."

Second place: Abigail Kaminski '11, Brenna Schwert '10, Isabel Burgess '12 and Lila Trowbridge '12 received $1,500 for their project, Clark Urban Garden Expansion, which aims to enhance the Clark Urban Garden, an organic, raised-bed garden on the campus. Enhancement ideas involve making the garden more hospitable, by adding a bench and flower garden, as well as more productive and efficient, by quipping it with more tools, a tool shed, and compost bin. Awareness campaigning would include programs to get students involved in weeding and maintenance, how-to-compost instructional sessions, harvest suppers, etc. During the winter, the garden would move inside in strategically placed container herb gardens placed around campus.

Third Place: $500 was awarded to Michael Elliot '12 for "This Worcester Life," a proposed radio show modeled after the popular NPR program "This American Life." "This Worcester Life" will have a strict focus on the Worcester region, showcasing interesting research projects at Consortium colleges, local goings-on in the city, interesting tidbits of Worcester history, and other topics that affect the lives of students and other Worcester-area residents. The show will be aired on ROCU, Clark’s student-run radio station. Other possible distribution channels to be explored include the local WCUW-FM, other Worcester area radio programs and free podcasts in the iTunes Store.