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Editorial: Innovation challenge showcases W.Va.’s potential

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Wednesday’s Innovating for Impact Design for Delight Innovation Challenge refrained from the negativity and hopelessness West Virginians are so used to hearing about their state, choosing instead to put the positive potential of the Mountain State and its residents on a pedestal for the world to see.

The Innovating for Impact challenge, sponsored by Intuit and held in the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse, featured groups of Marshall students in a “Shark Tank”-style competition, going head to head to see which groups had developed the best solutions to some of the state’s biggest problems, including substance abuse, education and new technologies for the state.

The panel of judges was a star-studded affair, featuring actress and philanthropist Jennifer Garner, NFL superstar and alumnus Chad Pennington and Intuit CEO and Marshall alumnus Brad D. Smith. The three celebrities were a visual reminder of the state’s past success stories as well as its ongoing possibilities.

The real stars of the competition, however, were the ideas developed and presented to the judges by Marshall students. The three finalists developed an app to help those struggling with substance abuse, a virtual reality simulation to deter high school students from using drugs and a mobile STEM kit teachers can use to introduce students to new fields of interest.

The ideas created by the teams are West Virginia-centric, addressing the most pervasive issues within the state: drug addiction and an economy suffering from a lack of diversification. These are often issues that send the state’s best and brightest packing, searching for greener pastures in states with more promising social and economic environments.

But the Innovating for Impact challenge showed what could become of West Virginia if the state’s most forward thinking individuals decided, instead, to invest their knowledge and capabilities into improving the state rather than abandoning it.

For Garner, these ideas represented the abilities of West Virginians to perform just as well as students from anywhere else, a trait not commonly seen by those outside of the Mountain State.

“Anytime that we can shine a light on the positive in this state, we have to do it,” Garner said. “We have to stand on the soapbox and celebrate our students. We have to celebrate our beauty, and we have to celebrate our innate talent and passion.”

While it may often seem like all is lost in the Mountain State, events like these demonstrate why it is important to encourage educational opportunities that will enable the state’s younger generations to tackle the state’s most difficult issues.

Huntington may be considered the drug overdose capital of the United States by onlookers and West Virginia may be in the bottom tier of many lists ranking states on their best and worst qualities. But Wednesday’s event showcased the importance of positivity and progressive solutions created by West Virginians for West Virginians, two components that can make this city and this state a better place for everyone.

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