Tuffy Tumbler Triumphs at Make-A-Thon

The ninth annual NC State Make-A-Thon taking place Jan. 26 – 28, witnessed a record-breaking 62 teams of nearly 250 students from all 12 academic colleges. 

Make-A-Thon, NC State’s annual sustainability innovation challenge for students, challenges students to research, design, prototype and pitch a solution that addresses a sustainability challenge.

For the team that won the grand prize, three of the four student team members had competed in a previous Make-A-Thon. It was the addition of a new team member that brought the winning idea.

The Tuffy Tumbler is a reusable cup with RFID technology that could be linked to a student’s dining account to enable the purchase of drink plans without the waste created by disposable cups.

Peyton Fitts, drawing inspiration from a previous work experience at Disney, expressed her amazement at the fun and reward of seeing their idea come to life. The Tuffy Tumbler, she explained, not only addressed sustainability concerns but also brought the joy of crunching numbers and witnessing the impact of their creation.

“This is my first year doing Make-A-Thon. I cannot get over how much fun this was… It’s so rewarding to be able to sit there and see this thing that we all talked through, prototyped…That was incredible,” said Fitts.

Make-A-Thon’s hallmark is its interdisciplinary approach, requiring teams to consist of members from at least two colleges. This approach not only fosters innovation but also draws attention to the value of each participant’s unique skill set. 

The winning team demonstrated how the intersection of knowledge can birth transformative ideas. Members included:

“When it comes to MAT, the key word is interdisciplinary. You have to have a group of people that can all pitch in their expertise and that worked so beautifully for this product”, Fitts noted.

Redhouse spoke to the joy of learning during the three-day competition. “It’s the ability to discover and learn new things that makes it fun…I’m a mechanical engineering major, but this [project] was very big picture and very real world.”

Redhouse also attributed much of their success to the ability to access advice, feedback and technical skills from the 32+ mentors available during the competition in the N.C. PSI Makerspace, the Albright Entrepreneurship Garage and Duke Energy Hall. “The mentors were amazing,” said Redhouse.

Research was also a key component to the team’s success for their final pitch to 60+ judges from campus and industry across the Triangle. Despite not being able to fit all of the information they had into their five-minute pitch, the process enabled them to fully explain the benefits of the Tuffy Tumbler. “Any question they had, we had the answer for them”, Gillespie said.

Dodson underscored the broader impact of participating in Make-A-Thon, stating, “Even if we didn’t win, it goes on your resume, it shows that you are willing to work on a team and take time out of your busy lives for a weekend event.”

Gillespie echoed the sentiment of focusing on impact rather than the $4,000 prize the winning team takes home. “We were going to leave here whether we won or not, being proud of what we did.” 

As Dodson exclaimed, “It’s definitely not going to stop here.”

With 85% of teams expressing interest in continuing their projects, the legacy of Make-A-Thon could impact NC State and beyond for years to come. 

Make-A-Thon returns in January 2025 for its 10th year. Contact the University Sustainability Office for sponsorship opportunities and other ways to get involved.