I was fortunate enough to be part of a team at Tulsa Community College that competed in the Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC), hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges.
To be honest, in the beginning my team’s primary motivation was to take home the prize money. The cash prize and the “resume prestige” of placing in a NSF competition kicked us into high gear exploring possible topics for research. However, as we discovered common interests within the team and saw their overlap with the NSF’s goals and initiatives, we became empowered to solve problems for which we cared deeply.
Our enthusiasm to take action in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education space was fueled by the realization that our personal interests in aquaponics and sustainability could be applied to the problem of racial and gender disparity in STEM, and that this could give us a unique edge in the NSF competition. Our efforts paid off: we were selected as finalists and were invited to participate in the CCIC Bootcamp.
There is no way we could have prepared adequately for what an amazing learning opportunity we were given through participating in the CCIC Bootcamp. The event was a transformative, illuminating, world-class workshop run by business, design and communication experts who unleashed a barrage of knowledge and techniques for developing and crisply presenting our research and ideas. I learned more about effective communication in three days than I had in entire semesters. The friends we made and the network exposure we received has also proved to be invaluable.
We didn’t win the competition, but we returned home ready to make a real difference in our community, to continue the mission of broadening STEM participation through aquaponics and outreach, and to share the NSF CCIC opportunity with even more students from my community college.