Sun Devils Innovate: Paris Poor’s STEM solution

Paris Poor is proof that you don’t always have to wait until graduation to start making a difference in the world. The bachelor’s in electrical engineering online student won a top prize during this year’s Innovation Week with a COVID-19-based project that explored using aerosolized nanorobots to protect the health of people in public spaces. As the only undergraduate student to win this year’s Best Moonshot Solutions prize, she wants to encourage more students to get involved in STEM, especially women like her.

Seeking new ways to serve

Poor participated in ASU’s five-day virtual “Reimagine Smart Cities in a post-COVID World” engineering, technology and product design experience held January 4 to 8, 2021. The event was facilitated by industry professionals at Infosys, a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting, and faculty from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Students had the opportunity to formulate and pitch ideas for employing high-tech devices and systems to better protect people in urban areas from pandemics.

“I was looking for opportunities to find a mentor,” Poor said. “My advisor sent me the [event] information and this sounded like fun and a great way to meet faculty.”

During Innovation Week, Poor learned key elements of design processes that companies use to formulate ideas for moonshot projects (ambitious, exploratory proposals) alongside other problem-solvers, engineers and designers. The ultimate goal was to imagine and pitch new technologies, environments, infrastructures and services that can make cities smart enough to keep us safe and healthy.

One of the things that attracted Poor to the event was her own background of public service.

“I work full-time for the city of Sierra Vista [Arizona], in the parks and rec department,” Poor said. “We have a wall of flyers for the activities we offer, and we have a big sports and aquatics program. We haven’t been able to do much of anything for almost a year, so it’s been hard coming up with programming that can help kids get out and do something.”

“I can’t imagine being their age and not being able to go to the pool, or play softball, or any activity that gets them out of the house,” Poor said. “That’s what got me interested in the event. However, my solution ended up being something completely different.”

A design that impacts society

She was focused on ways to facilitate gathering, looking for key insights to form an idea she could translate into a much-needed solution for her community and communities around the world.

“When we were formulating our problem statement, one of the things that I learned was to listen,” Poor said. “To have primary and secondary sources and find out what [people] are feeling.”

“It turns out people WANT to be around other people. They want to be crammed in a group at a concert, not be on Zoom, 6 feet apart, socially distanced. People don’t want that.”

Poor’s findings led her to explore different options, which ultimately resulted in using nanobot technology. Her solution had to address certain components such as scalability and how the venture will benefit users, investors and other stakeholders. Introducing these concepts helped train the students’ minds in entrepreneurship and practicality.

“Nanobot technology now being created and tested for use in medical and environmental fields shows promise for being capable of detecting, identifying, locating and eliminating airborne contaminants — which would include cleaning particles of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 out of the air,” Poor said.

In just five days, students went from ideation to prototyping. Poor was one of nine students to make it to the final stage of the event, where she pitched her solution to the panel of design experience judges.

Advice for aspiring problem-solvers

Photo of smiling ASU Online student Paris Poor, who studies electrical engineeringIf you’re not sure how to get involved or what activities might be right for you, Poor recommends reaching out to your advisor or success coach. ASU Online students have a wealth of personalized resources and support services to help. She also notes that online students now can get involved with previously on-campus events like a drone competition that the Vertical Sight Society is sponsoring (no experience needed) or working with Boeing engineers to participate in a flight competition.

“It really surprised me when I started my courses that I had a coach. It was nice to talk to someone about my successes and worries. It’s been a fantastic resource that I hope isn’t underused by other students, because it’s been extremely helpful for me.”

For women interested in pursuing STEM-related courses, Poor had this advice: “Anyone who’s interested should go for it. There isn’t anything about women or anyone else that excludes them from STEM. A few of my courses had only three women out of 200 students.”

The ASU Online experience

“People joke that when engineers graduate there will be all sorts of problems because engineers are doing programs online, but the online program is just as involved as the campus program. We get all the resources we need to do labs at home — it’s great exposure.”

Poor explained the benefit of working on labs at home. “It’s fantastic that I have them at my disposal all the time. Now I have an SPGA (staggered pin grid array) board. Normally I’d only get to interact with it during labs, but because it’s at my house I’ve been able to do more with it.”

As she works through her Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in electrical engineering degree, she’s learning skills that translate to careers pioneering new technologies in the energy sector, robotics, computing and beyond. Currently, she’s leaning toward pursuing a path as a design engineer in analog or digital, with hopes to work for companies like Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Boeing or working on drones for the government.

Get involved at ASU

“I was so excited to participate in this event and interact with participants all over the world,” Poor said. “Being an online student, I was already comfortable working over Zoom, Discord and a handful of other platforms to connect with others. This was a great opportunity.”

You can connect with other students and alumni like Paris Poor and see what ASU has to offer by joining the #ASUOnline conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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