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Purdue Fort Wayne Students Winning Team In TechPoint S.O.S. Challenge

Of the nearly 500 college students who participated in this summer’s S.O.S. Challenge, a statewide competition designed to help replace summer internships that were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, two from Purdue University Fort Wayne were members of a six-person unit chosen Friday as the winning team.

The victors, Transportation Team Number 5, included Purdue Fort Wayne graduate students Ashik Devakumar and Sumadhuri Damerla, both from the College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science.

Devakumar, a mechanical engineering graduate student, served as the team’s project manager. Damerla, a graduate student in computer science, served as its software programmer. They and the four other members of the team will share a $2,500 prize.

The students, who also earned $500 stipends for participating in the competition, were tasked with finding a solution to one of nine COVID-19 pandemic-related problems. All participants were divided into 90 teams according to their responses to questions about the various topics.

Each team came up with a way in which to produce a solution to the proposed problem, including its production and distribution. The final task of the competition was to produce an online presentation for the judges. The three judged to have the best project solutions were sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his review.

Transportation Team Number 5 was challenged to find a solution to ease air travelers’ concerns about contracting COVID-19 while waiting at TSA security checkpoints.

“We noticed that passengers spend most of their time waiting at TSA queues, which would now be a potential hot spot for the spread of COVID-19,” said Devakumar. “After consulting with a few TSA officials, we realized their pain in maintaining social distancing protocol with passengers and therefore decided to focus on solutions that solve the long queues at TSA security checks.”

Their answer was NoQ, an app that allows users to prebook and reserve security slots online, eliminating security queue times and easing the overall process for passengers and TSA agents.

The assessment of the judges was promising; they noted the app was a visually appealing solution that seemed like a viable product that could go to market with relatively little tweaking. It addressed crowding issues that have been heightened during COVID-19, but also could be useful for scenarios unrelated to a pandemic response.

“I am amazed at the quality of work that we were able to complete given the constraints,” noted Damerla. “I don’t think it would have been possible without our amazing coaches and the TechPoint team, who were very helpful.”

Both of the Purdue Fort Wayne students would definitely recommend competitions like this to other students.

“This challenge is so much more than an internship. It really helps you to be creative and to turn your idea into a product. I think it pushes you to be your best,” said Damerla.

Devakumar added, “It is a great platform for students to expand their network, as you meet other students and working professionals from all over the state. This was also a good opportunity for me to utilize and hone my leadership and project management skills. I would rate it a 10 out of 10, as it was a great learning experience.”

In addition to the two Mastodons, Michael Hall Jr., a mechanical engineering student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; RaviTeja Jorigay, a student at IUPUI studying human-computer interaction; Meroune Baoch, an Ivy Tech student studying software engineering; and Dhruvin Patel, who’s studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University West Lafayette, also made up the winning side.

The awards were announced in a livestreamed presentation that’s been posted online.

The challenge was presented by TechPoint, a nonprofit growth accelerator for Indiana’s tech companies. Click on the links for more information on the S.O.S. Challenge or TechPoint.