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A student team works on their MLB Challenge presentations.

The 2017 MLB Challenge: Sleep Deprivation, Oh My!

November 9th, 2017, will be a day for some that will not be forgotten. Particularly for those who decided to accept the 8th Annual MLB College Challenge. Here, we decided to take a 24 hour period to devote to a challenge.

The world of technology does not revolve around a stereotypical 9-to-5 job, or at least we have been told.

Okay, sure, we understand late nights in an office become part of the job, but what about all night? What does it mean to challenge yourself mentally and physically?

The MLB Challenge Begins

5 p.m.: Exit class.
5:05 p.m.: The mad dash to gather appropriate business casual clothing, and overnight clothing.
5:45 p.m.: A strong sense of questioning emerges, ‘what exactly did I sign up for?’
6:30 p.m.: Dinner at Club 44. And so it begins.

After mingling with the MLB alums and having dinner, the prompt emerged: we have a $10 million budget to devote to one of 30 MLB teams to address a problem, and use technology to solve it. Simple enough, right?

And then came the speeches. We understood that if we were comfortable right now, we probably did not have the best idea. In order to be successful, we needed to feel out-of-place and vulnerable.

8:30 p.m. marked the official start of the challenge. With our room assignments, teams, and places all established, we began a long endeavor.

The Idea Stage

The initial stage is one of excitement. We had a few ideas worth investigating, ranging from touch-based technology, blockchain, and Bluetooth. We continued to develop each idea.

The primary problem: we fell in love with a narrative rather than an actual idea. We wanted to create an old-school idea with modern technology, but the implementation and execution remained unknown. After meeting with the MLB staffer, they advised against the ideas we pitched. Stumped and lost, we returned to our humble abode.

The problem: We fell in love with a narrative rather than an actual idea.

Starting Over at Midnight

Hours passed. Not until 1 a.m. did we think of a new idea. Yet the essence of tiredness emerged. The remaining hours filled with stress presented a major situation: to stay awake and to execute a well-derived plan.

Slowly, the hours dragged. Between creating graphics, prototypes, live wires, and budget analysis, time commenced. The mental capacity is daunting, and the longevity crept upon us as the hours of the morning emerged.

With a break for classes, I left at 10 a.m. I took a quick shower, and went to class. By 2 p.m, presentations started. Placed into four groups, all teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, who would grade on a scale of 1-100. Finally, the top scoring team would move onto the finals.

Crossing the Finish Line

No, we did not win. But by finishing the challenge – proceeding with an idea that truly was, in our minds, innovative, and concluding with a presentation – that was winning. That’s the thing, we understood we would not win. Yet we stayed up until the early hours of the morning, stressing about font styles, pie charts, and stock photos to create a momentary presentation of a solution to a large-scale problem: fan retention rates.

Finally, off to Manley Field House with a dinner to follow, we arrived and the four finalists were noted. Their presentations were incredible. I honestly would have never thought of those ideas, and the magnitude of creativity truly inspired the remaining teams.

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 Advice for the MLB Challenge from a First-Year Participant

1. Have a team with multiple backgrounds

I noticed a common denominator: possessing a variety of skill sets led to success. For instance, the winning team had two students from Newhouse, one from the iSchool, and one from Whitman. The presentation highlighted all of their individualized skills. Strong narrative abilities from the broadcast students with great anecdotes, emotional appeal, etc., while the technological side of the venture appeared through the tech student, and the entrepreneurial edge stemmed from the business student.

2. Go into the competition with a few broad ideas

You are going to struggle. This will be followed by defeat, upset, and then motivation. Our team created three ideas going into the consultation with the MLB alum, all of which we were advised to not pursue. Post-consultation, we struggled and felt discombobulated. We felt stressed to not just come up with an idea, but one we all truly felt passionate about.

3. Don’t give up!

Look, it is probably the most cliché advice out there. But you and your team will get to a point that will make you say, “why am I doing this?” And a point where the Red Bull and coffee really don’t make up for the immense feeling of sleep deprivation, and when the idea of presenting in a few hours becomes the furthest thing from appealing.

And when you walk down the hallways of Hinds Hall, you will no longer associate it with a simple lab or class, but an experience you truly won’t forget. That corner will forever be the corner where you chugged a Monster Energy drink and discussed the budgeting for implementing interactive screens in the Tampa Bay Ray’s stadium. But it is also the room where your team made the conscious effort to stick with the challenge and create the best presentation possible. If that doesn’t make a night memorable, I don’t know what would.

Jessica Zuk

Jessica Zuk

Jessica Zuk is a current sophomore public relations and information management and technology major with a minor in English textual studies. She is from Asheville, North Carolina, and has always loved writing. She blogged during her high school years, continues to write in college, and works for the hip hop radio station on campus. She serves as the student editor for InfoSpace.

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