Ernest Hoaby Innovation Scholarship

General Information

The Ernest Hoaby Scholarship rewards student innovation as defined by an innovative design or device, which improves upon a prior design, device, algorithm, or method of doing something.

See the application form for complete details.


  • Individuals or teams may apply; applicants must be registered NDSU students

Award Criteria

  • Primary consideration: Originality and usefulness of the design, device, or process.
  • Secondary consideration: Personal achievement: succeeding though having a disadvantaged background.

Awarding Guidelines

  • Zero to three awards per year, ranked as Blue (excellent), Red (very good), White (honorable mention).
  • All winning applications, including White Awards, must entail relatively significant innovations.
  • Top awards for 2014 will be over $1000 for an individual application and is likely to be over $2000 for a team application.
  • Deadline: Monday, March 31, 2014

Process Issues

  • Reviewers: NDSU ECE faculty and at least one external reviewer will evaluate the applications. All external reviewers will hold the applications in confidence and review them strictly for evaluative purposes.
  • Winning submissions: A brief description of winning submissions will be posted on the Hoaby Innovation Center website within a few months after being awarded. Students will be given an opportunity to review and comment on the description of their winning submission before it is posted. Students' comments will be taken into consideration before final editing and posting of the description. The Hoaby Innovation Center will exercise care to reasonably ensure that the element of an innovation that has patenting potential, if it exists, is not revealed or made public on the website, unless the element has already been made public.

The Application Form

Click link to download an Ernest Hoaby Scholarship Application PDF. We highly recommend that students read the Tips for Writing a Good Submission before writing their scholarship application.

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Tips for Writing a Good Submission

Purpose of this section: to give students guidance and advice about how to write a stronger innovation scholarship application.

Preliminary Comments:

Before entering the discussion about how to write a stronger innovation application, a couple of comments about the benefits of writing an application.

Writing a good innovation application brings together several skills. In addition to engineering skills, an applicant must recognize innovation, and then articulate innovation. These are learned skills and get better with practice and use. Developing these skills – that is, getting a start on them during your university experience – will benefit you for the rest of your life.

One should not underestimate the importance of learning the skills of recognizing and articulating innovation. They are crucial skills in both engineering and marketing (not to mention other fields). Anyone who wants to have their innovations (or inventions) adopted by their employer must learn how to articulate why their idea is better than what is out there. Anyone who wants to successfully market (or sell) a product must be able to explain to the consumer what sets it apart from the others. In the case of the marriage between engineering and marketing, where marketing (as market research) plays a role before product creation, learning to recognize the unfulfilled niche that an innovation can fill, is often the difference between a successfully engineered product and a failed one. If one does not have something different in their product, then they have a ‘me-too’ product and they generally only do well (if they are successful) as a low-price product.

Writing a good innovation scholarship application is an investment in one’s future because it gives the person a real (not theoretical) experience in getting better at recognizing and articulating innovation – a skill with benefits that go far beyond the application itself.

TIPS for a Better Application

The preliminaries aside, let's get into the guidance or advice about how to write a better application.

The first thing that an applicant (or an applicant team) should do is figure out what in their 'innovation' is really new. It is fairly common for engineers who are 'young' in their innovation disclosure skills – be they 19 years old or 35 years old - to say that their entire design (or project) is the innovation. The thinking is that this thing I am working on has not been done before so it must be innovative. This kind of thinking is misguided. An entire design or project is not an innovation. Assuming that innovation is present, it will be something within the design or project. It will not be the project itself.

Tip 1: Where to look for innovation in your work.

Innovation in a project, product, or design – if it exists – is found in one of two places – in a component of the design, or as a unique combination of components. So what does this mean? A few examples might be the best way to communicate this.

An example of a 'component' in a design is the filament of a light bulb. A light bulb is made of several parts – the glass housing, the electrical connectors, the filament, the vacuum, the stems that hold the filament in space, and so on. Edison is commonly considered the inventor of the light bulb, but he did not invent the whole thing. Earlier inventors had found that filaments last longer if they are suspended in a vacuum. But the filaments still did not have a long life. Edison's invention was a filament material – found after a couple years of experiments – that had a longer life. A few years later another inventor, not Edison, found that a tungsten filament could last many months in a vacuum, even years. The tungsten filament and the vacuum are still primary components of incandescent light bulbs today.

Another example of a 'component' in a design is the wing. An airplane is many parts, an engine, a fuselage, a tailfin, landing wheels, the wings and so on. The Wright brothers are commonly considered the inventor of the airplane. However, when they filed their patent for the 'airplane', it was for wing-warping (and ailerons as a substitute for wing warping) – not for the entire airplane. Air-machines before the Wright brothers lacked sufficient control and stability while in flight preventing them from flying. Wing-warping (the precursor to the aileron) fixed that, and in the process enabled the start of the age of flight.

An example of a unique combination of components would be an analog peak measuring circuit. It uses a combination of (a) an integrator circuit to integrate the signal – it will have a zero volt output during the maximums and minimums of the signal, (b) a zero-crossing detection circuit that detects when the integrated signal is at a minimum or a maximum, (c) a snapshot circuit that will take a snapshot of the signal's voltage when told to do so by the zero-crossing detector. In this case, the individual circuits were not new, but the combination of them was new. (Circuits like these are used, for example, on disk drives and testers of disk drives to do signal processing of the signal read from the disk drive before converting the signal into a digital format.)

Tip 2: Review your design for innovation, which means, review the components.

Go over your design and consider each component (or part of the design) for innovation. When you are done with that, then consider combinations of the components for innovation. At issue: what has not been done before?

If you do not know if a component of your design has been done before, then at this stage, consider it a possibility for innovation. Rule out the components that you know have been done before.

Tip 3: Research what has been done before.

Innovation implies something that has not been done before, so one cannot make a strong case that something is innovative until they present it relative to what has already been done. Here are some examples of how to do this.

If your innovation is an electronic device to tell that a picture on the wall or a row of bricks is level, then go to a hardware store and see what devices already exist that check for level-ness. Do leveling devices exist? (Yes). Are there some that are electronic? (Yes) Do the electronic devices use a drop of mercury in a glass tube to determine if something is level? (Yes) Are there any that use another electronic method? (No) OK, good. Since your device uses another electronic method to determine whether something is level, this is where your innovation is. It is the leveling component. Use that kind of language, then, in the application – "our innovation is a new electronic level detector."

Assume your innovation is a software algorithm that will allow a digital signal processor (DSP) to pick out the baritone saxophone in a recording and tell a scoring program on a computer what the saxophone melody is (its notes, their lengths, and their amplitudes). Then look through a musical equipment catalogue (paper or on the Internet), and think about other applications that might want to do signal extraction, and see what exists that will already do processing similar to this. Does sampling software already exist, that can record sound samples of instruments? (Yes, it is used in synthesizers and digital pianos) Does software exist that can compare sound from a musical instrument to the sample to see if the instrument is a baritone saxophone? (Yes, voice recognition software does this). Does software exist that can filter out from a digital recording of a band (orchestra, etc.), one of the 'instruments', be it the bass, piano, lead singer, or a saxophone? (Yes, but it only gets 80% of the instrument's signal; it misses about 20%.). Does this software determine from the signal the notes the instrument plays? (Yes). Does it determine the lengths of the notes it gets – half notes, eighth notes, etc.? (No). Does it determine the amplitudes of the notes it gets – loud, soft, etc.? (No) OK, good. Here then is your innovation – "our innovation is an improved baritone saxaphone extraction filter."

Is this making sense?

In some cases the books in the Innovation Corner can help with historical backgrounds. Part of its mission is to provide students with books that cover various aspects of the history of engineering and computing. Over time as this library is enhanced with more titles, it will become a stronger resource.

Tip 4: Now that Tip 3 is done, go back to Tip 2 and review your design again.

Go back and forth between Tips 2 and 3 a couple of times until you are pretty confident that you have determined where – if anyplace – that innovation exists in your design or project.

Tip 5: Write the application – what and why.

The challenge to this point has been to recognize where the innovation is.

The challenge in writing the application is to satisfactorily articulate the innovation. Articulation of the innovation means two basic things: What is the innovation? Why is it an innovation?

The 'what' part consists of describing it. Give the innovation an appropriate name – an improved method of detecting a potato's eye – and then describe what it does and how it works. It generally is not necessary to describe the project in which the innovation will be placed (or the project from which it came from), but giving a brief overview of the project can be useful background information.

The 'why' part explains and argues that no one else has done this thing before, or at least, not done it in the way that you have. Here is where the work you did for Tip 3 comes in and can help your write-up. Describe what has and has not been done before and why your innovation is really new. On the application you will see the words 'prior art'. Designs or inventions that have been done before (are already 'out there') are called 'prior art.'

Winning Submissions

Our 2013 Innovator

Waylon Lindseth

Winner of a Blue Award
The Cleanli-Xaminer is a method for detecting whether an object, such as hands, have been washed and are therefore reasonably free of harmful bacteria. Further details at this juncture will be left out at the request of the innovator and due to intellectual property activities

2013 Scholarship winner: Waylon Lindseth
Left to right: Dan Ewert (advisor), Waylon Lindseth


  • Waylon Lindseth

Faculty Advisors:

  • Dan Ewert – advisor

Our 2010 Innovator

Drink Mate

Winner of a White Award
The Drink Mate is a unique combination of elements - a device that can both heat and cool a drink, that is compact in size, and employs a battery as its power source. A thermoelectric device makes use of the physical property that compression produces heating and decompression yields cooling. The device consists of two flat semiconductors that are bonded together – one has many electron holes and the other has few. When current passes from the material with many holes holes to the material with few, the compression of electrons causes heating; while current in the opposite direction produces decompression and cooling. This semiconductor property is called the Peltier effect, after its discoverer. The coaster-like device contains the thermoelectric device, some control circuitry, and a battery for its power source.

2010 Scholarship winner: David Fischer
Left to right: Ted Hoaby (son of E. Hoaby), David Fischer, Jane Solhjem (former wife of E. Hoaby)

2010 Scholarship winner: David Fischer
Left to right: David Fischer, Benjamin Braaten (advisor)


  • David Fischer (2nd year)

Faculty Advisors:

  • Benjamin Braaten – advisor

The inaugural award was given April 26, 2007.

Our 2007 Innovator

Bioelectromagnetic Chamber

Winner of a Red Award
The Bioelectromagnetic Chamber enables one to test the effects of a magnetic field on living tissue. The chamber provides a uniform magnetic field inside the chamber, that can be held steady or be pulsed. The magnetic field is variable (it can be set at different magnitudes), and it can be pulsed at different frequencies. The chamber was designed to operate in either a laboratory or in an environmental chamber where temperature and humidity are controlled. The chamber makes it easier to test the effects of a magnetic field on tissue than do prior test vehicles because of its portability (due to its compact size) and its varied functionality. For more information about this innovation, click here.

2007 Scholarship winners: Cyle Johnson, Mark Schroeder, Sarah Panzer, Niccole Schaible
Left to right: Cyle Johnson, Mark Schroeder, Sarah Panzer, Niccole Schaible


  • Niccole Schaible (5th year)
  • Sarah Panzer (4th year)
  • Cyle Johnson (6th year)

Faculty Advisors:

  • Dan Ewert – advisor
  • Mark Schroeder - NDSU Design Projects coordinator

Past Winners

Click here to see our past winners.

The Innovation Scholarship is managed by and is under the auspices of the ECE department and the NDSU Development Foundation.