The winning entry in the University of Vermont’s first "ideathon" is a pocket guide that will make it easier for UVM students to vote in national elections by providing them with state-by-state information on casting absentee and early mail-in ballots. Many students at the university are not from Vermont and are registered to vote in their home states. 

The guide was created and developed by Wyatt Chia, a Ph.D. candidate in the Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Science Program, with help from teammate Jenn Karson, a lecturer in the College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences.

Ideathons have become popular in recent years as a kind of non-technical version of a hackathon, whose end product is an idea rather than an app. Like hackathons, ideathons harness the power of the group to address a single challenge.

UVM’s ideathon was inspired by the dismal voter turnout of the 2016 presidential election. Only 55 percent of voting age citizens cast ballots, the lowest rate in 10 years, according to CNN. The event’s theme was to create ideas that would encourage more voting. The event attracted about 30 students, faculty and staff to the Hills Building on February 24 to take on the challenge.  

Eugene Korsunskiy, senior coordinator of design initiatives at UVM, led the brainstorming session, which saw six teams alternate between white boards stationed around the room as ideas took form and were developed. At the end of the event, six strategies for increasing voter turnout had emerged. 

The event was sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research. Rather than judge ideas on the spot, Richard Galbraith, vice president for research, who attended the event, asked teams that were serious about implementing their ideas to flesh out their concept in a formal proposal. 

Galbraith deemed the event a success. “This was a pilot to see if the UVM community was interested in participating in an event like this and if we could pull it off successfully,” he said. “Given the large group we attracted and the good energy in the room, I’d say we succeeded.” Galbraith anticipates sponsoring more ideathons in the future.

The voter handbook Chia developed will also contain contact information for key absentee and early voting staff in each state, deadlines for all steps, and sample forms to assist in filling in the necessary information.  

The proposal also states that “ … in the spirit of independent zines and in order to engage more project contributors, we will invite campus artist(s) to design and contribute art and poetry to the handbook.” 

Wynn will receive $1,000 to research information for the guide, design it, and print multiple copies that will be distributed widely around campus. A PDF version will also be available for download.  


Jeffrey R. Wakefield