SG kicks off first Improve UT Challenge competition

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The members of The 40 Acre Reserves Team, Eric Duong, Egon Lyttle, Alexandra Yut and Carlos Martinez, devised an idea that helps students who require assistance when paying for meals on campus.
Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

Twenty percent of UT students reported skipping meals to save money and having trouble affording food in 2016, prompting four students to come together on Saturday to tackle
this problem.

 As part of Student Government’s inaugural Improve UT Challenge, Eric Duong, Egon Lyttle, Alexandra Yut and Carlos Martinez devised an idea to implement a money reserve system for students who require assistance achieving food security.

“It benefits everybody,” said nutrition senior Duong. “If you donate, then that’s off of your good will, and it’s not like people are being forced to donate $0.25 every time. It’s just up to you. It’s autonomous.”

Customers at locations around campus would be given the option to round up to the nearest dollar with their purchases, and the added amount would be stored in a fund for students who need assistance in paying for meals.

Duong said he came up with the idea for the 40 Acre Reserve while grocery shopping at H-E-B a year ago. The team submitted the idea as part of the Improve UT Challenge, a case competition started by SG university-wide representative Micky Wolf this year for students to submit ideas to improve the University.

Nine judges evaluated the 20 semi-finalist teams and narrowed down the competition to four finalists before announcing the winner.

Wolf, business honors and Plan II sophomore, said he came up with the idea for the Improve UT Challenge at a summer internship that ran social entrepreneurship competitions.

“For me, I’m always about democratizing and spreading your reach when it comes to where you’re generating ideas from,” Wolf said. “If you give (students) an opportunity to be creative and really work on things they have a passion for, that can lead to much better improvement than Student Government sitting in an office.”

Duong said student access to the reserve would be based on need and dependency on financial aid, and the money would be held in a Bevo Bucks account managed by the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs.

Marketing junior Yut said the 40 Acres Reserve is a low-risk project that would be implemented on a trial basis at UT.

“It all depends on the amount that’s in the reserve and the amount that’s circulating back as well,” Yut said. “That’s why the marketing component is huge because we want everyone on campus to be aware of this ‘pay it forward’ kind of system.”

The team agreed to be transparent about the amount of funds in the reserve system, allowing students to see how much money is in the system, similar to a population counter website.

Nursing senior Lyttle said the system requires basic cashier training and infrastructure changes to registers around campus.

The winning team will receive  up to a $10,000 budget from the Office of the VPSA to implement the winning idea.

Wolf said the plan is for the Improve UT challenge to become an agency of SG and an annual UT event, similar to the Longhorn Run.

Virginia Luehrsen, VPSA student affairs specialist, said SG came to VPSA for assistance with the event.

“We are engaged on a daily basis with our students, (but) we don’t see campus life through their eyes,” Luehrsen said. “So having an opportunity to not only see solutions, but also problems that we may not have known were there that students are facing... is the real benefit for this.”