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Students Summarize Experiential Learning Initiatives During exCITE Talks

Elevator Pitch Competition Supports Students’ Growth as Scholars


Oct. 19, 2022

By Mike Emery, 713-743-7197


At the University of Houston, students spend hours, days or even weeks engaged in high-impact experiential learning initiatives.

Such endeavors often place Coogs within real world environments for transformative projects in which they apply classroom knowledge to issues affecting their communities.

Although much time is devoted to these projects, these students can explain their findings in a matter of minutes — three minutes to be exact.

That was the case when more than 30 students delivered three-minute presentations on various initiatives during the recent exCITE Talks competition conducted on campus. Inspired by the 3-Minute Thesis competition, this event invited students to develop “elevator pitches” on their co-curricular experiences at UH.

What started as a group of 30 was whittled to 10 exCITE finalists, who delivered condensed and compelling summaries of co-curricular projects and research initiatives. The championship round of this competition took place Oct. 10 before a packed house in the M.D. Anderson Library’s Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion.

Students shared insights on their work, which addressed topics such as food insecurity, breast cancer, educational equity, COVID-19, life-changing internships and transformative learning abroad experiences.

Students were judged by a panel that included Dan Maxwell, interim vice president for Student Affairs; Monica Thompson, interim assistant vice president for Student Affairs and executive director of University Career Services; and Jerrod Henderson, assistant professor in the Cullen College of Engineering. Everyone in attendance also cast votes for a People’s Choice Award.

After careful deliberation, the judges returned with their top three exCITE Talks finalists: Adrian Gonzalez (first), Ada Cinar (second), Funmi Babajide (third) and Alexis Ruiz (People’s Choice).

In his exCITE Talks presentation, Gonzalez, a senior psychology major, discussed the service learning project Math Confidence Through Cubing Club (MC^3).

MC^3 aims to alleviate the effects of poverty in our Third Ward community, specifically in the area of educational equity,” Gonzalez said during his presentation. “We plan to better the lives of the students we serve by providing a combination of math mentoring, character building and Rubik’s Cube lessons.”

The Rubik’s Cube, Gonzalez said, often challenges its users who view solving it as an impossibility. In reality, it is a teachable skill, he said. Providing students with a physical object that represents the impossible offers a platform to teach confidence, hard work and determination.”

Gonzalez said that the MC project was highly rewarding on many levels, but the exCITE Talks further strengthened his skills as a scholar and communicator.

“I spent a lot of time learning how to speak about this project and get my ideas to fit within three minutes,” Gonzalez said. “I think that’s a very important skill, to communicate something so broad in a short amount of time to an audience from different disciplines. It teaches you to communicate any kind of idea to anyone.”

This was the fourth year UH hosted exCITE Talks, and the 2022 event was particularly special as it returned to an in-person event.

exCITE Talks is presented by Cougar Initiative to Engage (CITE), UH’s Quality Enhancement Plan that sponsors high impact co-curricular projects for faculty and students. Participating exCITE Talks students also benefitted from the support of elevator pitch workshops conducted by University Career Services.

Up next for Cougar scholars is the 3-Minute Thesis competition in November presented by UH’s Graduate School in November. This event offers graduate students an opportunity to share their research and academic experiences using a single slide. 

“Experiential learning programs such as those addressed during exCITE Talks transform students' lives by exposing them to the real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom,” said Anne Dayton, director of CITE. “Explaining the impact of these experiences can be challenging for students, particularly in a high-stakes situation like a job or professional school interview. exCITE Talks gives students the opportunity to hone these skills in a competitive, but supportive, atmosphere while giving us an opportunity to celebrate all that students have achieved through co-curricular learning in the previous year.”

Pictured above (L-R) exCITE Talks finalists: Ishmam Alam, Kayla Huhn, Mielad Ziaee, Ada Cinar, Amanual Getaneh, Adrian Gonzalez, Preston Lee, Funmi Babajide, Claudio Castano, Alexis Ruiz