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Metal No More: First Year Nursing Students Win IIE Idea Challenge

Ella Heckman, Ella Cho, Jillian Briggs and Aidan Gage, all first-year nursing students in the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, show off their 1st place certificate on stage after winning Villanova’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) Idea Challenge on November 17.

“My best friend was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor sitting on her optic nerve at 13 years old and endured weekly chemotherapy for over a year. She complained about her water constantly tasting metallic and bitter,” recalls Jillian Briggs, a first-year nursing student in the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing (FCN). Jillian and three classmates, Ella Cho, Aidan Gage and Ella Heckman, used this inspiration for their first-place winning concept “Metal No More” for Villanova’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) Idea Challenge. The finals were held November 17 where the students won $1000 in addition to a 1st place certificate for their idea to combat taste changes for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The goal of the annual multicurricular pitch competition is to inspire creativity amongst first-year Villanova students by asking a simple question: What new product or service, big or small, could change the world? This dovetails with FCN’s strategic plan initiated by Donna S. Havens, PhD, RN, FAAN, Connelly Endowed Dean and Professor, to further develop a culture of innovation in the College.

This year, Associate Professor Sunny Hallowell, PhD, APRN, PPCNP-BC, a Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Faculty Scholar and member of IIE’s Beyond Ideas committee put her passion for innovation into action by working with IIE’s Assistant Director Stephen Green to reimagine the event as a hallmark of the first semester, where all first-year students on campus are encouraged to compete. She describes the next steps, “We re-imagined the assignment for (the Introduction to Professional Nursing course) and devised an efficient and digital process for the voting and evaluation related to the competition.  The goal was to spark the students’ imaginations and give them an opportunity to explore solutions the healthcare issues that inspired them to pursue nursing studies.  Faculty were engaged to help students prepare to compete against each other and present their ideas to the entire freshman class at the FCN. As Dr. Hallowell notes, “this is an important event that introduces our freshman to the creative thinking skills they will need to use to solve healthcare problems as future nurses.”


To bring the plan to life, Dr. Hallowell engaged the enthusiasm of the faculty teaching various sections of the course:  Clinical Assistant Professor Angelina Arcamone, PhD, RN; Associate Professor Jennifer Ross, PhD, RN, CNE; Clinical Assistant Professor Ann Scheve, MS, RN; Associate Professor Carol Toussie Weingarten, PhD, RN, ANEF and Assistant Professor Christina Whitehouse, PhD, AGPCNP-BC, CDCES, FADCES, who all encouraged their students’ participation, made sure they understood the assignment and carried it out.

Each group shared their ideas within class with winners selected to move forward in the process, then FCN’s chapter of the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP-Villanova) co-sponsored a semi-final event with senior and second-degree BSN students staying into the evening to cheer on the first-year students who were pitching while honing their presentation skills. 

Dr. Whitehouse explains additional help, “Stephen Green and I met with the top groups in each course section a few days prior to the final IIE Challenge to provide support, the opportunity to ask questions, practice in front of a group and receive feedback from their peers – all with the purpose of refining and having a polished presentation.” She also gave written feedback on their projects so they were ready for the Idea Challenge finals.

When the winning Metal No More team met with Dean Havens on November 21 to present her with their certificate, it was clear they were excited and had enjoyed the process. They plan to move their idea forward. As Jillian says, “We wanted to come up with a way people like my best friend,” a winning idea that could change the world for people living with cancer.