Third annual ImproveNU awards top grant to H2Aware for water conservation


Jacob Fulton/The Daily Northwestern

The winners, organizers and judges of this year’s ImproveNU pose for photos after the event. The event awarded $11,000 in grants to three student groups to implement their proposed ideas to improve campus.

Jacob Fulton, Assistant City Editor

The third annual ImproveNU competition came to an end on Saturday, awarding its top grant to H2Aware, which pitched a project on water conservation.

The competition, co-sponsored by Associated Student Government and The Garage, is Northwestern’s own version of Shark Tank. The event gives students the chance to pitch ideas on improving campus life and receive grant funding to implement their plans.

This year’s winning group consisted of Medill freshmen Libby Markham and Talia Schulhof, who pitched plans to install shower timers to encourage students to limit their daily water waste. They were awarded $7,000 to follow through with their idea.

Exchange NU, a group that plans to create an accessible donation system to redistribute resources across campus to low-income individuals, won second place. In third place was Scope, an aggregation platform for easy access to Wildcard discounts in Evanston. The runners-up were granted $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.

Markham said she and Schulhof decided to participate in the competition on a whim, and they found they shared a passion for climate activism, which inspired the idea they pitched. The proposed idea will pay for itself, she said, if collectively, the campus reduces its shower times by 0.8 percent.

Markham said she was excited her team’s idea was chosen out of this year’s contestants because she was impressed by the other presentations.

“We presented the first time and were not feeling confident — after, we were like, ‘okay, that was probably like the end of it,’” Markham said. “Then we got to the finals and were feeling a little bit better, but then we saw all the other amazing groups. And then our first reaction was in the corner just laughing. Just pure shock.”

H2Aware was one of approximately 50 teams involved in the event — twice as many as the previous year. SESP sophomore Christian Wade, ImproveNU’s executive director, said this growth is indicative of the program’s possible longevity and future success.

Wade said he was excited to see the organizing team’s months of planning come to fruition, and he wants to continue to see strong support for the winning groups in years to come.

“I just want to see it grow from a standpoint of being able to get more money to winners,” Wade said. “If I choose to get involved next year, I definitely want to dedicate more time to securing more and more funding, because $7,000 is a lot, but $10,000 is even more that can be put to good use.”

Wade said he looks forward to seeing all three of this year’s winning ideas enacted across campus because he thinks they will have tangible impacts on the Northwestern community.

Schulhof said she was thankful the judges saw the potential H2Aware’s proposal had. She said its simplicity was the reason she thought it won because it would be feasible to implement and have a tangible impact.

“I think it makes people know that they don’t have to start a revolution to have an impact on the climate crisis,” Schulof said. “Take a five-minute shorter shower and be doing something — every drop counts.”

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