UMSL students Maria Martinez-Baladejo and Kevin Gomez (right) talk with Michael Elliott, associate dean and director of undergraduate studies for the College of Business Administration, during an informational session Feb. 13 about the 2014 Agricultural Innovation Prize competition. (Photo by Daniel Shular)

Kevin Gomez and Maria Martinez-Baladejo are hoping their clean energy idea is worth $100,000.

The two University of Missouri–St. Louis students are taking part in the 2014 Agricultural Innovation Prize, a partnership between The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Student teams are encouraged to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population. The contest is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students.

“We are going into this as winners,” said Gomez, a junior majoring in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in political science and business. “We want to win. We strongly believe that our idea is very innovative and will solve a lot of problems within agriculture.”

Gomez helped devise a business plan for the contest, a requirement for the competition. He works in the marketing department at Edward Jones. His teammate, Martinez-Baladejo, a senior double majoring in biology and psychology, has worked as a research assistant at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center for two-and-a-half years. The pair has formed a team with two professionals from the center. Not wanting to give away too much of their idea, they’ll only say the project deals with clean energy.

In an effort to promote the competition to other UMSL students, Martinez-Baladejo invited James Carrington, president of the Danforth Center to speak at an informational session she helped arranged Feb. 13 at UMSL.

Carrington gave those in attendance a broad overview of current agricultural challenges. He also had very kind words for Martinez-Baladejo, who works in his lab, describing her as talented and dedicated.

“Her contributions are quite vast, and she’ll have her name on several publications,” he said.

Other speakers included UMSL Chancellor Tom George, Michael Elliott, associate dean and director of undergraduate studies for the College of Business Administration at UMSL, and Perry Drake, assistant teaching professor of marketing at UMSL.

Martinez-Baladejo and Gomez received $1,000 dollars from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation to promote the event to the wider UMSL community.

The contest will narrow down all of the entries to the top 25 teams who will be invited to the final round, taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The deadline for entry submissions is Feb. 28. Click here for more information about the competition.

The UMSL Experience

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez