Students pitch their passion projects

By Tabitha Whissemore

On June 11, in a hearing room on Capitol Hill, 12 teams of community college students anxiously stood next to posters that outlined innovations they’d been working on for months.

The students, along with faculty mentors, were in Washington, D.C., as part of the annual Community College Innovation Challenge. The program, led by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), encourages student teams to develop innovative, STEM-based solutions for real-world problems.

Tuesday’s poster session was part of weeklong boot camp designed to help them hone their projects and ideas. They learned to pitch their project to potential investors, develop their product for market, take constructive criticism and more.

It’s personal

A team from Mississippi’s Itawamba Community College is hoping their innovation will help people living with HIV with their innovation. ViruShield is a personal subcutaneous HIV medication pump that also can monitor viral loads. The device, which looks like an insulin pump, can reduce visits to the doctor, a benefit especially for people without access to regular healthcare.

Student Matthew Butler, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, felt a “personal responsibility” to help people in the community. He and the team want to “give people peace of mind.”

Across the room, a team from Henry Ford College (Michigan) told attendees about their innovation designed to combat disinformation and misinformation online, Source Alert. It would help people find the real source of information they’re reading so they know if it’s true. It would also alert people to edited images.

“With artificial intelligence, it’s hard for you to know what’s real and what’s not,” Abeer Alhassan said. She does makeup online and said photo editing can “set unrealistic beauty standards.”

Teammates Brendon Bonner and Ronnie Rabah-Nasr said they’re interested in the political aspects of disinformation.

Collaboration amidst competition

Meanwhile, two community colleges are looking to improve electric vehicles.

The students at California’s Coalinga College want to develop a calcium-ion battery as a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative to the lithium battery. Calcium resources are easier to extract and can be recycled, according to the team.

Students from Houston Community College are researching the next generation of supercapacitors for EVs using polyaniline. It would increase the range and battery longevity for EVs.

“It’s better, cheaper and safer,” said students Raghad Algarrawi and Hassan Khan during a Tuesday night poster session on Capitol Hill.

Though the two colleges were technically in competition this week, they’re hoping to collaborate, the Coalinga students said.

The 2024 winners

The teams went before a panel of judges Thursday to give their final pitches, and the top three innovations were named.

First Place: Perimeter College at Georgia State University for its Gorginea Care project, which provides easily accessible testing tools for cervical precancer screening. The team’s innovation – a tampon applicator design with an integrated pap smear brush – will address barriers to screening often faced by marginalized groups. The team members are Sophia Bereket, Shalom Ejiwunmi and Rakeb Tesfassellasie, with mentor Janna Blum.

Second Place: Dallas College in Texas for its project, Autonomous Monitoring for Blaze Emergency Response (AMBER). Their product uses infrared cameras and autonomous drones to detect wildfires and safeguard farmland, national parks and urban areas. Team members are Peter Hansen, David Navarro, Sebastien Vongkaseum and Anish Yakkanti, with mentor LaTasha Starr.

Third Place: County College of Morris (New Jersey) for Doing the MOST with NBD-QC, a system that can capture light energy as heat through photo-chemical reactions and convert 80% of the stored heat into usable energy. The goal is to provide a safe and efficient means to enhance the world’s energy supply.

“Year after year, I am thrilled to witness the promising talent that the Community College Innovation Challenge brings together,” said James L. Moore III, assistant director for STEM Education at NSF. “The student participants represent both the present and future of STEM by addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our times. NSF is proud to co-sponsor CCIC and to congratulate the students for doing an outstanding job translating their knowledge into action.”

AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus added that this year’s teams were “truly inspiring.”

“We are so proud to be afforded the opportunity to provide these resources for community college students to showcase their innovative and creative solutions to real-world issues. The projects featured show the amazing potential these students have to make meaningful economic and societal impact,” Bumphus said. “Congratulations to the team from Perimeter College at Georgia State University and to all of the finalists.”

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Photo caption: Abeer Alhassan (center) and Brendon Bonner (right) from Henry Ford College explain their Source Alert project. (Photo: 

Tabitha Whissemore

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.