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How My Passion for the Environment Led Me to Study at GIX By Peiling Li

Date: November 08, 2018

A group photo of the third place winning team and the judge panel at the Ideathon. Featured (from left to right) is Babak Parviz, Amazon VP; Jonathan Hopkins, Exec. Director of Commute Seattle; Zayd Abdel-Kamel, UW Aeronautics student; Paula Hammond, Sr. VP of WSP USA and former WA Sec. of Transportation; Weng-Ching Cheung, UW student; Vikram Jandhyala, VP for Innovation Strategy, UW; Exec. Director at UW CoMotion and co-Exec. Director at GIX; Peiling Li, GIX MSTI graduate student; and Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle.

This week, we’re featuring a guest blog by Peiling Li, a MSTI student who recently joined GIX as one of the 44 Cohort 2 students.

Below, Li writes a firsthand account of her academic background, passions, and more recent experiences as a GIX graduate student.

She also shares her accomplishments at CoMotion’s Imagine Mobility Ideathon, a social innovation challenge hosted at GIX to explore the complex transportation challenges of our region.

Li and her team’s gamification-driven transportation solution tied for third place in the Ideathon finals.

My experiences as a UW undergraduate

Before GIX, I was an undergraduate student, majoring in environmental studies at the University of Washington.

Many of the experiences I had while completing my degree, including my capstone project which was focused on water remediation challenges in developing countries, have shaped my understanding and perspectives of the global environment.

During my program, I was lucky enough to get accepted into one of the world’s leading environmental consulting companies, ERM. I worked for their Shanghai office branch in China as a full-time intern, where I had the opportunity to talk with local experts, learn about local policies, visit the contaminated sites of clients, and expand my network by building local contacts. I felt like a sponge absorbing new knowledge at every turn. It was also the first time I truly reflected on what I want to do in the future and sincerely considered going back to China to continue pursuing my dedication for improving the environment.

Not too long after, however, I found out about GIX.

Why I decided to pursue graduate study at GIX

I remember attending a GIX information session in my junior year where  Linda Wagner, the Director of Academic Programs, introduced GIX and asked a question to the group that stayed with me – ‘what is the issue that keeps you awake at night?’

I immediately thought about my passion for the environment.

As I discovered more about the program, GIX seemed like the perfect academic platform to learn about developing new products and innovation in the green industry. I felt like GIX could help me do something bigger than I previously imagined.

I also liked the comprehensive, interdisciplinary curriculum. It seemed like the program offered the best faculty and staff. And it seemed like the ideal place to find future co-founders who could work with me on a startup after graduation.

My first few weeks at GIX and how my interest in the Ideathon started

I started my first quarter at GIX a few weeks ago and during this time, I enrolled in an entrepreneurship class taught by Benjamin Hallen, a great instructor from the UW Foster School of Business.

For one of our assignments, we were required to identify some of the current unmet needs in society.  The first thing that came to my mind was the difficulties locals have with the public transportation system in Seattle, as well as the many environmental issues that arise from excessive traffic.

After reviewing some research with my classmates, I learned that Seattle is currently experiencing what’s called “a period of maximum constraint.” I also discovered some major challenges Seattle commuters encounter when they use public transportation.

On the same day, I received a notification about the Imagine Mobility Ideathon from our cohort’s Canvas page, a portal which keeps GIX students informed about the program, events happening at GIX, and other opportunities available to us through UW. I felt as though it would be the perfect opportunity to share my findings and learn from students with different backgrounds.

An innovative and inspiring three days at the Ideathon           

CoMotion, an organization committed to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community, and Challenge Seattle, held the Ideathon at the GIX Steve Ballmer Building. The goal of the three-day event was to generate new solutions for the future of mobility and personal transportation planning.

On days one and two, we formed teams and learned about the current state of the transportation system from some of the awesome speakers from Challenge Seattle, WSDOT, SDOT, and King Metro City. We were taught specific skills in design thinking, decision making, and interviewing, and we had mentors to help us work through all of our ideas and make a final decision. We also visited different locations like Columbia City and Bothell to do field tests and interviews.

Our team’s gamification solution

Our group pitched a gamification system that would incentivize more people to use public transit. It is an app that rewards bus and light rail riders, while integrating fun games commuters can be a part of, like treasure hunts throughout the city. The more you ride, the more points you accrue. Commuters with more points are ranked higher on the game’s leaderboard.

Local businesses could sponsor the game in exchange for providing special discounts. Transportation companies, like King County Metro, could also give away extra free rides to people who used public transportation on a regular basis, and therefore had accrued a large number of points.

This system would not only encourage the use of public transportation, but it would also help relevant transportation departments gather data and feedback for future route planning and better transportation experiences.

In the end, we found out our idea tied for third place in the finals. It was a great accomplishment!

About Peiling Li

Peiling Li is currently a Cohort 2, first-year student at GIX. Prior to GIX, she completed her undergraduate degree at UW, majoring in environmental studies and minoring in nutritional sciences. In the summer 2015, she was named the city champion in Voice of China. This later inspired her to stage her own charity concert and to start “Peiling Foundation” in China to provide funding support to local high school students.

Li hopes that through GIX, she can continue building her leadership skills and one day play a key role in finding the most innovative solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s greatest environmental challenges.

About GIX Graduate Degrees

GIX offers two interdisciplinary graduate degrees; the 15-month Master of Science in Technology Innovation (MSTI) through the University of Washington and the 21-month Dual Degree which combines the MSTI with the Master of Engineering in Data Science and Information Technology (MEDSIT) through China’s Tsinghua University. Pioneering a project-based learning model, GIX graduate degrees integrate technology development, design thinking, and entrepreneurship to immerse students in the fast-moving, hands-on culture of rapid prototyping, critique, and iteration.