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NMSU team selected for international finals of design competition

For the third consecutive year, New Mexico State University students will participate in the international finals of the Invent for the Planet design competition.

TF-575, a team of undergraduate students, recently took first place at phase one of the IFTP design competition, hosted by NMSU’s Aggie Innovation Space and Texas A&M University.

“I was very excited that we got into the final round,” said Olivia Belian, TF-575 member and mechanical engineering student. “I was not expecting it because there were so many other great projects. I am very proud of our team for this accomplishment.”

This annual event challenges student teams from around the world to design innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing the planet. After competing at their local schools, select winning teams travel to Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, for the final round, which will take place at 9 a.m. April 20.

“The AIS hosts IFTP to give NMSU students the chance to practice their engineering skills as well as learn how to work together to make a difference in the world,” said Veronica Gurrola, industrial engineering graduate student and AIS lead innovator. “AIS’s role is to mentor the students and provide them with anything they may need.”

This is not the first time NMSU has been represented at Invent for the Planet. Last year, a team from NMSU, which Gurrola was a part of, was also selected for the final round and took second place overall. In 2020, another team from NMSU was invited to the final round which was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Seeing students consistently make it to the finals round is awesome,” Gurrola said. “I think it shows how dedicated our students are and how willing they are to help people. They are very inspired to help solve global issues and inspire me to help guide them forward.”

This impressive track record speaks to the commitment and dedication of NMSU’s students to tackle some of the world’s most complex challenges.

“IFTP is one of the most accessible design competitions where you get to use all of your knowledge and creativity to solve a real-world problem,” said Richard Cazares, team member and two-time IFTP winner. “There are not very many competitions that put you on a world scale from the start such as this one and the solutions you design will have a great chance to be selected to advance.”

The members of TF-575 come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including engineering, biology and chemistry. Their project, which they developed over the course of the 48-hour competition, focused on addressing the issue of communication after natural disasters or crisis situations when telecommunication infrastructure is down.

“Our invention was a tethered balloon system to lift important cellular, radio and other communications equipment over disaster areas where these services were knocked out of commission,” Belian said. “Our goal was to quickly reestablish communications so that trapped survivors with phones could contact emergency response teams, and to enable general information communications.”

In addition to the recognition and prestige that comes with being a finalist at Invent for the Planet, the competition also provides an opportunity for students to hone their skills in teamwork, problem-solving and innovation.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to apply concepts used in the classroom to real-world issues, and for gaining experience on how to work as a team,” Belian said. “My favorite part of the competition was being able to work on a real-world problem, learn new things outside of my area of expertise and meet new people.”

“It gives me a great sense of personal accomplishment,” Cazares said. “The first time I competed and advanced, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it kept us from making that past project a reality. This time definitely feels like a shot at redemption for me, but my personal goal isn’t as important as actually creating our working prototype. I have a great team of very capable engineers around me, and I know we will be able to create something impactful.”

For more information about the Aggie Innovation Space and its full list of events and services, visit