Carnegie Mellon University

UPLift Challenge

Have you dreamed of making improvements to the CMU campus to benefit you and your friends or colleagues? 

Then keep reading. 

The Task Force on the CMU Experience is eager to tap into the innovation and creativity available in our campus community to help make our shared spaces more engaging, supportive, and fun.

We are looking for projects that are modest in scope, but ambitious in imagination. Repeat submissions from last year are also welcome! A faculty-staff-student committee will select the best ideas, which the university will fund at up to $20,000 per project (but typically around $10,000), and execute them. 

We welcome any CMU students, faculty or staff to submit proposals for enhancements on the Pittsburgh campus. If selected, we will fund and execute your vision, in partnership with Campus Design and Facilities Development (CDFD), Facilities Management Services (FMS), and others. 

learn about the principles of placemaking

We're seeking proposals in three priority areas, but innovative ideas that go beyond them are equally welcome.

Indoor Project: 

Space and installation interventions in academic/ residential halls that promote increased well-being on the CMU campus, foster an integration of work-life balance, and improve the overall student experience.

Outdoor Infrastructure: 

Projects that amplify the community's pride and spirit through creative placemaking and campus branding to outdoor areas.


Experience or Event:

Unique experience based projects designed to bring people from all over the campus together in collaborative, cooperative, and meaningful encounters that advance the CMU experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis.
Yes, we encourage group entries and collaboration between multiple indidviduals or groups on one project.

Proposals will be selected based on a few simple criteria:

  • Worth: How relevant is the proposal to campus needs? How does the proposal create innovation, collaboration and communication? 

  • Reach: How much of the campus will the proposal impact? Does it enhance the experience broadly for a good number of campus constituents? 

  • Viability: How realistic is the proposal in terms of budget, implementation and logistics? Have all reasonable considerations been accounted for?

  • Scoped: Is it small scale in budget (less than $20k) and is it actionable, realistic, quick to deploy, and circumscribed in scope? Is it temporary / fixed term (unless otherwise approved by the committee)

  • Novelty: How creative, exciting and experimental is the approach? Does it represent an innovative but untested idea to improve the campus? Would it benefit from a pilot to prove worth?

The goal is to fund and implement winning projects over the summer of 2017, a process that will be executed by members of the Task for the CMU Experience. Please note that proposers/applicants will not be responsible for implementing or constructing their projects and there will be no monetary award or cash prize exchanged. The projects will be implemented and coordinated through FMS, CDFD and Student Affairs (as needed and relevant), with the project proposers acting as consultants throughout the process, if they are willling. This makes sure each project attends to the many aspects of building codes, criteria and standards (e.g. health and safety, risk management, ADA compliance) required for infrastructure projects.

No, this challenge is open to students, faculty or staff regardless of their discipline or major. If your idea is selected, we will consult with you and work with Campus Design and Facilities Development (CDFD), Facilities Management Services (FMS) and Student Affairs to execute your vision.

Proposals that intend to improve shared spaces that all campus residents can benefit from are preferred, including in hallways and public spaces, in outdoor spaces and in common gathering spaces, such as libraries and eateries. Examples include improvements like the addition of benches or artworks to overlooked spaces, outdoor experiences like giant chess sets, pop up lounges and experiences (e.g. an outdoor theater), new indoor greenspaces, bike storage or bag storage experiments, and pilots of projects like Little Free Libraries. But these are only suggestions any creative reuse of campus space that excites or inspires you is welcome!

As projects continue to age they’ll increase in wear and tear. Removing them reduces risk. It also removes the need to develop a maintenance strategy which in turn allows for quicker implementation. It also acknowledges that some campus community members will love some ideas while others may not. It makes sense to remove until they’ve been fully appraised. But most importantly,  it underscores the experimental nature of the interventions. They’re a trial. While removing them may seem counter intuitive, good ideas prove themselves. Successful trials will naturally be scaled to the campus. This takes time and proper planning, approval, maintenance planning and risk management. Removal gives breathing space to reflect, redesign and refine a cross-campus implementation that’s integrated with the campus master plan. While not the default, exceptions of course can be made if and when the proposal demonstrates both value while addressing maintenance and risk issues in the long-term.

Pilots are all about learning. We want to learn from the process about what improves our campus in the short and in the long-term. To do this, all funded projects will actively look for feedback and suggestions from everyone, incorporate early measurement, use real-life observation and leverage shared discussion. This will let us measure how well each project works, evidence their impact, allow us to make actionable decisions about each project, and justify requests for conversion to longer term implementations. Project outcomes, as well as recommendations based on these results, will be reported to the campus community at the end of the trial.

An exact timeline will depend on the number of submissions, need for further design, and the extent of construction, but the Task Force has outlined some cursory milestones: 

  • May 2018: UPLift Challenge Proposals Due
  • End of May 2018: UPLift Challenge Project Chosen
  • Summer 2018: Proposed Implementation of selected UPLift Project(s)
  • Fall 2018: UPLift Project Revealed to Campus!