Millennium Café Pitch Competition Winners

Graduate student finalists show their work during research elevator pitch competition 

Six Penn State graduate students involved in materials or engineering research presented a concise rundown of their research in two minutes or less for judges from companies including PPG, Corning, Dow and Murata at the finals of the Millennium Café PPG Elevator Pitch Competition on May 18.  

The finals were part of the Materials Research Institute’s (MRI) last Millennium Café for the spring. The opening round was held May 13. Both were held virtually. 

The finalists include:  

First place with a prize of $750
Lauren Katch, doctoral student in engineering science

Second place with a prize of $500:
Kaosi Anyanwu, graduate student in aerospace engineering

Third place with a prize of $250:
Ashlesha Bhide, graduate student in chemistry

The fourth, fifth and sixth place competitors all received a $50 Amazon gift card and a personalized evaluation of her pitch by professionals from industry and Penn State. They are:  

  • Fourth place, Rebecca Fleeman, doctoral student in biomedical sciences
  • Fifth place, Jacob Waldman, doctoral student in materials science and engineering
  • Sixth place, Mustafa Rifat, doctoral student in manufacturing

Being mentally prepared to deliver an elevator pitch about their research is an important skill for graduate students. This can help them make valuable networking contacts for future employment and research collaborations. 

“In my role working with industry, I hear all kinds of descriptions of research projects,” said David Fecko, MRI industry relations coordinator. “It is rare that a researcher is able to present a succinct and impactful summary of their work in 5 or 10 minutes. The ability to get an idea across before losing someone’s attention is an excellent skill to develop, and these students have done that very thing.” 

In her winning pitch, Katch outlined her research using ultrasound waves to detect cracks in silicon wafers. Silicon wafers are used to create microchips for electronics.

“The audience had the opportunity to learn more about the research that I do and why I do it,” Katch said. “We are so surrounded by technology, that it can be difficult to appreciate all the research that goes into making these parts. I hope that the audience took away a greater understanding of these intricacies.” 

Anyanwu’s winning pitch focused on her research modeling an airplane pilot’s visual attention using enhanced flight vision systems, with a goal of making aviation safer. 

“The elevator pitch helped me sharpen my critical thinking ability, focus and engagement by being concise and convincing,” Anyanwu said.  

Along with the opening and final rounds, the pitch competition included graduate students submitting audition videos of their pitches to be selected for the opening round, and two free virtual training sessions conducted by business and communications experts to help graduate students hone their skills. These were open to anyone at Penn State. 

“I was impressed with the way that the pitches developed," Fecko said. “The improvements in the pitches was dramatic. These were very high quality, polished products by the competition time.” 

Anyanwu said that the event helped her be more conscious about good communication as she aspires help expand access to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

“My goal has always been to inspire young women in STEM, to break the myth and fear of the sciences,” Anyanwu said. “I hope more of us will be encouraged to continue to break boundaries.” 

The event was sponsored by PPG, global manufacturer of paints, coatings and specialty materials, and coordinated by MRI.