August 8, 2020


By DEVON SMITH

After four days of imagination, innovation and sleep deprivation, the competitors of Conestoga’s 4×4 Challenge were at the mercy of the judges.

The challenge ran from 9 a.m., Feb. 21 to 2 p.m., Feb. 24 and was organized by the chair of engineering and technology, Ignac Kolenko. Kolenko created this competition to give students in the electronics engineering, software engineering and information technology programs a chance to showcase their entrepreneurial and software/electronics skills.

“This has been a dream of mine, getting students into the spirit of entrepreneurship,” said Kolenko.

The challenge was to design an application or a device that would provide a useful solution to a common problem. In Kolenko’s words, it “was totally open. You have a dream, build it.”

And dream they did, with projects ranging from an iPhone app for Conestoga’s bookstore to a device that would send an alert, by text message, if a farm gate was left open for too long.

There were a total of 10 teams who entered and many worked around the clock during the time allotted.

Second-year computer programming student Stephen Campbell was part of the team that designed an app that would help track you down if you got lost, and he talked about some of the challenges that his team faced.

“It would be working and then we’d add one more thing and then the thing that was working would break,” he said. “It was a lot of trial and error but in the end it all worked.”

Campbell’s was one of the five teams that had access to the facilities in the Communitech Hub in downtown Kitchener. These teams had access to whiteboard space, meeting space and wireless Internet at the hub. But they also received devices and developer support from RIM to help them with their projects. Kolenko was pleased with the company’s support.

“(The students) came in with no knowledge of the Blackberry platform and four days later came out writing software for it,” he said. “It was great.”

And that knowledge went a long way for some of the teams, including the competition winners, Brendan McFadyen, Chris Sippel, Colin Wheat and Dylan Corriveau. The team won $200 for their Grand River Transit app, which would help students find the nearest bus stop, when the next bus would arrive and if there were any delays.

Though there were industry members there to do the judging, it was Kolenko himself who donated the entire prize pool for this inaugural event, and his purpose was clear.

“As a computer engineering student at U of Waterloo many years ago, I found that participating in programming contests, and writing software on the side, gave me a leg up over others who concentrated solely on academics,” said Kolenko. “Although no guarantees can be offered, it is my belief that these types of opportunities to showcase your strengths can only help you with your future job search.”

This particular opportunity didn’t go unnoticed. Shawn McEwen was a judge in the competition as well as the keynote speaker at the showcase. He is the program manager at Desire2Learn, a software company that specializes in educational applications. During his presentation, McEwen talked about entrepreneurship, risk taking, failure and success, all tying into his own career as a software developer, and he gave credit where credit was due.

“This is a unique opportunity,” he said. “And what you do here does matter outside, when you get there. And I’m never of the school of thought that, as students, you never know what it’s going to be like in the real world. This is actually the real world. What you did this week is phenomenal.”