To Infinity and Beyond: Challenging Students to Think Critically About the Cities They Inhabit 


Fulbright’s Career Development, in partnership with Infinity Blockchain Ventures (IBV), hosted the “IBV Mini Challenge” in the latter half of Fall Semester 2020. This served as an opportunity for Fulbright undergraduate and graduate students to engage with real problems society faces, applying their creative and critical thinking skills in a compressed time frame. 

 IBV challenged students to think about a “Smart City”, where a “Smart City was defined as not only well-equipped with technology but one that has been developed with livability, sustainability, and cultural identity and appreciation in mind. On the Mini Challenge Launch Day, students were presented with two specific topics under the Smart City theme: 

  1. How might we develop a technology-enhanced solution to promote the local tourism and vacations in the city i.e. “Staycation” activities? 
  2. How might we develop an “art-tech fusion that motivates young people to visit and enjoy museums and other historical sites to build a stronger local culture and identity? 

On the Launch Day, students were provided with an ideation workshop to practice working within their teams and begin brainstorming possibilities. The Launch Day was followed by a week of students designing and iterating on their ideas – interlaced with opportunity for coaching sessions – and closing with the Mini Challenge Pitch Day. On the Pitch Day, students were asked to give a 10-minute presentation with 5-minute Q&A to two guest judges: Cris Tran, CEO at Infinity Blockchain Ventures, and Robert Vu, Head of Publishing at AmanotesOverall, six student teams entered the competitionwhere five teams were comprised of undergraduate students and one of graduate students. 

 Cris served as a driving figure in visioning and delivering the Mini Challenge. When asked why he felt his investment of time and resources was worthwhile, he shared: “At IBV, we believe that the best way for students to prepare for their future career and potential horizons is getting exposed to the real challenges that everyone and our company faces... It allows students to imagine what is missing and what could be better from their perspectives. 

 As a guest judge, Cris reflected on our student’s pitches: We were very surprised with the level of enthusiasm from the students and the quality of work they delivered during the final pitch! Students only had one week to preparewhich is very impressive. However, we saw the limited practicality of pitched solutions against reality, which is exactly what IBV wanted Fulbright students to experience – showing them what more they have to learn.” 

 The winning team of the Mini Challenge, named “Nhà Sử Phiêu” took on the “Staycation” topic, developing a mobile application that would re-imagine a visitor’s experience to museums and historical landmarks with augmented realityWhen asked why the students entered the competition, one of the team members, Nguyễn Thu Huyền (Class of 2023), reflected on how Fulbright’s environment allowed for serendipitous friendships: “It is such a coincidence for the four of us to meet and become a team in such a short period of timeĐặng Nguyễn Hướng Dương is my roommate in the dorms, Phan Nguyễn Tường Minh is my programming partner from Computer Science 1, and Trường Hoàng Binh Sơn is my partner from Fulbright’s Debate Club. Deep down, too, I think we all wanted to take this chance to apply the knowledge and skills we have gained at Fulbright thus far — to compete and challenge our limitations.”  

 Another team member from Nhà Sử PhiêuTrường Hoàng Binh Sơn (Class of 2024), reflected on how a liberal arts education and Fulbright extracurriculars supported their pitch: utilized what I learned from my Introduction to Psychology course to design the reward system in our product, which directly relates to human motivation and behaviors (e.g. intrinsic and extrinsic motivation). Additionally, through training sessions and debate competitions of Fulbright Debate Club, I developed more systematic reasoning to present ideas and communicate effectively to my teammates. 

 Career Development at Fulbright strives to foster opportunities and experiences to help all Fulbright students find professional and personal fulfillment across diverse areas of study, interests, and career paths. This is done through students engaging in meaningful exploration in a breadth of activities and programs, such as the IBV Mini Challenge.  

 When deciding to pursue and deliver on this particular program, Vincent Pham, Manager of Partnership Development at Fulbright, shared: “The Mini Challenge was a three-fold event: First, iwas a direct response to students who had voiced their opinions in seeking real-world application of the competencies they are learning at Fulbright. Second, it was scoped so that it was challenging enough to pique students’ interest and require commitment, but not too “large” that it would make the challenge too daunting – allowing students to experiment and explore different opportunities through intentional scaffolding. Finally, in collaboration with Cris of IBV, the Mini Challenge was a way to bring forth more creative programming between universities and employers – to engage in activities that are mutually beneficial to everyone involved.” 

 The IBV Mini Challenge served as one of many activities afforded to Fulbright students during Fall Semester 2020, which included events such as the Fulbright Mini Fall Film Festivala mental health professionals panel discussion featuring four practitioners across the field, a writing workshop led by Thùy Minh of Vietcetera, and more. 

 With Spring Semester 2021 on its way, Fulbright’s Career Development aims to both deepen and expand its “creative” partnerships, identifying and piloting nuanced ways to engage with partners that bring greater alignment of interests and needs between students, employers, and Fulbright. 

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