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Pitch ideas for the Innovation Challenge


Tim Kaine (D-Va.) chats with students about their Community College Innovation Challenge projects during a presentation this summer in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

The National Science Foundaton (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) invite community college students to solve big problems and win prizes in the third annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC).

“At a time when the nation is working to maintain and expand a scientific workforce that can continue to lead the world in innovation, community colleges are an indispensable resource,” said Lee Zia, acting director of NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education. “Community colleges have proven that they can bring people from underserved populations into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and keep them on-track for careers that will play important roles in an increasingly technology-based world.”

AACC President Walter Bumphus noted the competition is important to spotlight student innovation and research in growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, energy technologies and security technologies.

Potential solutions for real-world problems“Their work can contribute to finding solutions to the nation’s challenges in high-tech areas,” he said.

CCIC incorporates research topics of vital importance to today’s scientists and engineers. This year’s contest will challenge students to submit projects under one of three themes:

  • Maker to Manufacturer, which considers the development of innovative methods or solutions that address the typical hurdles for small-scale manufacturing.
  • Energy and Environment, which calls for projects that develop innovative approaches to sustainable pathways.
  • Security Technologies, which seeks original, practical methods to design, build, analyze and operate computer and network systems that are secure, private and usable.

Resource guides for all three themes — as well as details about CCIC submissions, eligibility and prizes — are available on the challenge's website.

STEM innovation in actionTwo-year college students — working in groups of three to five — have until February 15 to submit a video and written submission that explain their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) solutions to real-world problems in the selected theme areas. The college teams must also include a faculty mentor and a community or industry partner.

Judges will select up to 10 teams as finalists. In June 2017, finalists will attend a four-day innovation “boot camp” focused on helping them develop skills in innovation and design thinking, entrepreneurship and business planning.

As part of the boot camp, finalists will correspond with NSF program officers and science policy fellows, with the goal of providing them with customized science and engineering coaching.