Innovation win for MLS students

MLS JD student Chris Girardi and MLS alum Laura Hamblin have come out tops in the 2019-20 U21 & PwC Student Innovation Challenge.

Chris and Laura’s innovative ideas stood out among entries from around the world in the 2019-20 U21 & PwC Student Innovation Challenge, with Laura nabbing a runners-up spot and Chris being one of three winners of the overall competition, with fellow University of Melbourne student James Tait.

What’s the challenge?

A joint initiative between Universitas 21 and PwC, the U21 & PwC Innovation Challenge began in 2017 as an opportunity for postgraduate students at U21 institutions to apply their knowledge to real-world situations and reflect on their own experiences.

Student competitors create a three-minute video response to a question posed by PwC on a topic currently facing the international workforce. The winning entrants receive an all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to PwC Dubai (pending travel restrictions) along with tailored career development coaching sessions.

This year, students were asked:

How can universities help individuals gain a broader perspective on the long-term impact and consequences of their day-to-day actions on people, society and the environment? What types of jobs will an environmentally sensitive economy need, and what is the best way to prepare students for them?  

Innovative solutions

“My idea focused on better research communication and an adapted university curriculum,” says Chris.


MLS JD student and Innovation Challenge winner Chris Girardi

Chris proposed that universities upskill academics to present complex ideas simply, ensuring their research is easily accessible to those unfamiliar with the subject matter. This would include publishing plain language summaries of research findings alongside any new research, and increasing physical access to research by publishing simple, yet academically rigorous, digital content such as news articles and general interest pieces.

“This issue is so important because it’s not just limited to universities. Clear communication is essential to cutting through the online white noise, not only to make sure we’re better informed, but to stop us from feeling overloaded by information.”

When thinking of how to prepare students for employment in an environmentally sensitive economy, Chris turned to human-centred design.

“The job market is changing so quickly we can’t predict what people will be doing in five years, let alone ten or twenty.”

“I proposed universities shift the focus of curricula from largely reflective learning to problem solving with a future focus. A design thinking framework in classrooms would help our future decision-makers empathise before they define and solve problems, producing outcomes that aren’t just human-centred, but environmentally sensitive as well.

“Tools like design-thinking are a universal necessity if we’re to have any hope repairing a rapidly degrading environment.”

Laura’s entry centred on the dual potential of universities to inspire and shape thought leadership. Her entry proposed universities lead by example and operate as a climate-conscious part of the economy for the mutual benefit of the institution and community.

While researching her idea, Laura met with oil and gas industry professionals and NGOs, while also drawing on her own experiences and studies.

“I have always been really interested in the interaction between climate change, the economy and the potential for a productive cultural shift across society to allow economic interests to mitigate climate change,” she says.

“I believe climate change will be the greatest humanitarian issue of our time and needs to be addressed through long-term, cultural shift.”


MLS JD alum and Innovation Challenge runner-up Laura Hamblin 

Future focused

“It’s incredibly exciting”, says Chris. “The prospect of making a meaningful difference to the way research is presented and shared is a great honour.

“Being able to provide a student voice for essential updates to our models of university education is an enormous privilege as well.”

While he acknowledges it’s hard to know what the future will hold, especially in the current climate, Chris hopes to continue working in innovation and eventually build a career solving these kinds of problems.

Laura also plans to continue championing climate change action through innovation.

“I have chosen to complete my graduate role in a firm that is engaging with climate-conscious ideas and seeking to implement new strategies for themselves and their clients,” she says.

“That this idea has been acknowledged in a global competition makes me feel hopeful that we can achieve the cultural shift needed to redirect our economy and address climate change.”

Learn more about the U21 & PwC Innovation Challenge