Students Use Technology Innovations to Tackle Big Issues

Author: Dave Sikula
April 12, 2022

Imagine having the opportunity to work with scholars and professionals from around the world who are united to solve some of society’s most pressing problems – and getting college credit for it. That’s what Lam Family College of Business students get to do as participants in the SUGAR Network’s projects.

The SUGAR Network is a partnership between organizations and universities that offers students opportunities to devise technologically innovative, practical, and disruptive real-world solutions to issues that are faced by a vast array of international corporations and organizations. What’s unique about SUGAR is that those solutions are created through a partnership of international students, working together to bridge cultural differences, language barriers, and even time zones.

Utilizing technology, international relationships and student innovation, students participating in the SUGAR Network are gaining experience in areas including data management, organizational logistics, transportation, nonprofit management, and now NFTs. 

“Through engaged partnership and international collaboration with Ripple and Warsaw University of Technology, our students are redefining business education through experiential learning, real-world problem solving, and innovation. This unique extra-curriculum experience is particularly beneficial as they look for jobs in the evolving technology field.”  said Information Systems Professor Leigh Jin, Ph.D., Director of the Lam-Larsen Technology in Business Education Initiative.

The most recent projects for SF State’s SUGAR teams have involved working with the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Anhui, as well with Warsaw University of Technology (WUT) in Poland.

In the first case, through the SUGAR Network and the generous sponsorship of Ripple (a blockchain-based digital payment network), the SF State team tackled a huge problem that is close to home— the creation of better systems to acquire and distribute food to those who face hunger each day in San Francisco and Marin counties.

The innovative solutions devised by the SF State and USTC teams created avenues to ease food donations from smaller farms, addressed the challenges of transportation logistics and food safety, and improved communications to ensure that those who face food insecurity can understand how to access it. Working with the Food Bank, the teams designed a blockchain system and app that can provide constant monitoring of food from donation to delivery, ensuring the food is handled properly and arrives at its destination in good shape. In addition, the app allows volunteers to log their hours worked – and provides them with incentives and rewards for the work they complete.

This year, a team of SF State students travelled to Nice, France, to participate in their own SUGAR project. SF State students and faculty advisors are collaborating with Ripple and a Polish team to apply blockchain technology to facilitate the fair commercialization of Non-Fungible Token (NFT) artworks and art experiences. NFTs are digital representations of real-world objects that are generally purchased using cryptocurrencies.

The SF State and WUT SUGAR teams has conducted extensive user research, attended gallery openings, and interviewed artists, gallery curators, and NFT buyers. The team has learned that, while artists are open to the idea of selling their work as NFTs, many are worried about the impact of digital art on traditional media like painting and sculpture. The biggest challenges the teams are facing are how to overcome the apprehensions of artists about maintaining control of their work, as well as ensuring that they are fairly compensated, and that the provenance of those works is maintained.

SF State student Gelvin Escueta, one of the current team members, remarked that the “project is unique for me … [it’s] allowed me to gain experience in industry-level projects with real potential use cases. As an aspiring UX designer, [it’s] allowed me … to expand my experiences in the design thinking process and collaborative work with an international team. [What I will] take away from this project is that communication is key. Our team is fairly small in size, and communicating … is very important -- especially when tackling such a challenging project.”

The SF State and WUT teams’ solution to this challenge will be revealed in June 2022 at the next SUGAR conference, where student teams from around the world will present their next-generation answers to these pressing questions. Stay tuned!