Fostering STEM Innovations

By Madeline Patton

Students showed off their innovation and entrepreneurial skills last week during the 2021 Community College Innovation Challenge

The creativity and energy of community college students were evident throughout the showcases of the 2021 Community College Innovation Challenge held June 16.

During the virtual sessions, the finalist teams described the innovations they designed to make positive differences in the world and answered questions from the audience of STEM and congressional stakeholders.

The 39 students on the competition’s 12 teams are a cross-section of the community college population nationally. Most teams had both men and women and were a mix of people of different races, ages and ethnicities who are pursuing degrees in a wide range of disciplines.

The four-person Nashua Community College (New Hampshire) team that created the concept for a biodegradable mask had a business and accounting major, a chemistry and biology major, and two computer engineering majors.

“I think that the diversity within our team really aided us in helping us work together because we had many different ideas, and we just blended well together to create our end product,” team member Nate Post said during the Q&A portion of his team’s showcase.

The competition concluded June 17 with pitch presentations to a panel of judges. Pasadena City College (California) won first place for its project on nano-bioconjugate immunotherapeutic. Borough of Manhattan Community College (New York) came in second for its idea for a virtual reality application to serve autistic children. In third was Austin Community College (Texas) for its project: OASIS – the Officer Aptitude & Stress Information System.

Words of encouragement

During his remarks before the students’ showcases on Wednesday, Panchanathan said, “Today’s event is just one example of the critical role that community colleges play in supporting and educating the next generation of STEM talent. I also want to thank the community college leaders and the many STEM supporters participating today – including senators and representatives from around the country. Your continued support for today’s STEM students will help to ensure that they become tomorrow’s STEM leaders, which is key to ensuring that our nation remains at the forefront of discovery and innovation.”

AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus praised the CCIC participants for their efforts to develop transformative solutions for real-world problems.

“The students competing in the CCIC are leaders in innovation, and their uses of STEM solutions to benefit society are not only highly significant, but necessary in helping to secure a strong future,” he said.

The students also received praise and good wishes from their college presidents, entrepreneurs and several U.S. senators and representatives, who provided recorded statements. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, provided a detailed video message of encouragement to the students that touched on his experience as a student at De Anza College (California).

The CCIC projects offered solutions to real-world problems. Several focused on very small things with the goal of making big changes:

  • The team from Pasadena City College (California) would like to use a nanoparticle of silver wrapped in gold to treat cancer at lower cost and with fewer side effects than radiation and chemo.
  • The students from Tarrant County College (Texas) proposed a subscription service that would deliver mycelium from turkey tail mushrooms to commercial bee keepers. Chemicals that naturally occur in this type of mushroom can help bees defend against a virus spread by parasitic mites that can decimate bee colonies. “We have a goal to save the world, and we believe saving the world starts with saving the bees,” said student Rachel Grace Farver.

Other environmental problems are the target of other CCIC projects:

  • The team from Columbus State Community College (Ohio) proposed developing smart recycling equipment that would pay students for depositing recyclables into ingenious compacting machines.
  • The Itawamba Community College (Mississippi) team invented a filtration process that uses filters and UV light to purify rainwater so it is safe for humans to drink.

Other teams focused on making the world more comfortable for particular populations.

  • Johnson County Community College designed a bench that allows people with mobility issues to move themselves from the driver’s seat along the exterior of a vehicle to retrieve a wheelchair from the trunk.
  • Austin Community College developed a data analytics system for police departments that uses existing artificial intelligence to sort data quickly to match officers’ certifications and aptitudes with 911 callers’ needs.
  • Borough Manhattan Community College (BMCC) devised a plan to use modules programmed into virtual reality headsets to teach life skills to people with autism, ranging from personal grooming to taking public transportation.

Read more about CCIC in CC Daily.

Madeline Patton

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.