Homer’s Forum is a new pitch competition where students propose and test ideas for actionable change within a non-academic department of the University for the chance to win a $1,000 prize. Fourth-year Joshua McKie founded the program along with the Center for College Student Success.
The competition will take place on May 10 at the Cloister Club in Ida Noyes Hall. Teams of up to four students will present their plans to tackle a current campus issue and will be judged by a team of professors and alumni. The competition, which requires teams to have at least one Odyssey Scholar to lead the team, will be accepting registration applications until Tuesday, April 26. This pitch competition will give students the opportunity to have direct communication with University departments like dining, housing, and the Registrar.
McKie developed the idea with Pranav Nanga, a 2020 UChicago graduate and previous Odyssey Scholar.
The inspiration for the Homer Forum stemmed from Nanga’s attempt to develop a data-driven solution to improve the quality of the Odyssey program back as an undergrad. One idea he came up with was to create an administrative position specific to the Odyssey program that would bring together various department services to support Odyssey scholars.
“[Pranav] graduated during my second year, and he wasn’t able to get the initiative out of the door. I really liked what he was doing and I took all of that passion and sort of transformed it into a vessel I saw as a renewable format for pushing forward Odyssey initiatives,” McKie told The Maroon.
While only four students are allowed to present, teams are encouraged to get more people involved behind the scenes. Students who register will be given a pitch guide devised by McKie to help with brainstorming pitch ideas and presentation formatting.
“The administration right now wants to limit it to 12 teams, but that being said, I’m going to argue as hard for pretty much everyone that applies to be admitted,” McKie said.
Judges will be grading each pitch on a 10-point scale. After deliberation, whichever pitch has the greatest aggregate score will win. When the winners have been decided, one or more people from the pool of judges will act as a coach in the implementation of the winning team’s solution.
“Judges will also be former Odyssey scholars and [I’m] specifically trying to bring in Odyssey scholars that became consultants to help out with that,” said McKie.
Among the possible judges is alum Jessica Ilayalith Mora, a well-known activist for first generation, low-income (FGLI) students and author of the book Spread Your Wings and FLI: How to Effectively Navigate College as a First-Generation, Low-Income Student.
McKie also shared some possible pitch ideas that he hopes students who are participating in Homer’s Forum will take and run with, some of which were included in the competition guide.
“You know, Pranav had a great idea back then, I think a central Odyssey [Scholars] administrator is necessary and would be very helpful. I also think I reached out to the Swipe Out Hunger folks, as they were really close with their campaign [to donate excess dining hall food to local communities]. I would love to see them make a pitch,” McKie said. “Additionally, if someone can create a cultural center proposal, I would love to see that as well, in all honesty, because that would be a boon on campus.”
Despite his upcoming graduation, McKie hopes to continue this program for several years as not only will he be supporting Homer’s Forum remotely post-grad but continuing to work with groups like the Odyssey Scholar Fellows Committee on adopting and furthering the program.
All students are encouraged to apply and fill out the application which outlines a proposal summary, the affected department, and the contact information for the team lead (who must be an Odyssey Scholar).