Calling student innovators

Members of Oakton Community College's team debrief after their presentation to judges during the 2018 Community College Innovation Challenge. (Photo: Matthew Dembicki/AACC)

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is accepting applications for its annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC), which encourages student innovation in STEM that can address real-world challenges.

The competition, held in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), seeks to foster the development of students’ innovation, communication and entrepreneurial skills. It also enables students to discover and demonstrate their capacity to use STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to make a difference in the world and translate that knowledge into action.

Working with a supportive faculty or administrator mentor, teams of two to four students can submit proposals, and up to 10 finalist teams will be selected to develop their proposals during an Innovation Boot Camp. Finalists teams will create and present an entrepreneurial pitch to a panel of professionals with a chance to win cash awards. Applications are due March 30.

“CCIC provides an opportunity for students to showcase solutions to real-world issues that impact their communities,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “It allows us to provide resources and support specifically designed to prepare them to take these solutions from concept to reality. We are proud of the long-standing partnership with NSF to provide this platform and spotlight these talented future entrepreneurs.”

In-person boot camp

While the 2021 competition was held virtually due to Covid, AACC plans to hold this year’s competition as an in-person event in the Washington, D.C. area. That includes the Innovation Boot Camp, which provides professional development, mentoring and coaching to build strategic communication and entrepreneurial skills that can help students advance their innovations in the private and public sectors. Students participate in sessions on commercializing ideas, using technology for social applications, communicating with stakeholders, refining a pitch and more.

The boot camp culminates in a poster session and engagement opportunity with STEM leaders and congressional stakeholders, and a pitch presentation in front of a panel of industry professionals to determine the winning teams.

Related article: Fostering STEM innovations

AACC’s mission to build a nation of learners by advancing community colleges aligns with the goals of NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program to prepare students for meaningful employment in high-tech fields. To further support the mission, NSF funded the initial launch of the CCIC alongside AACC in 2015.

“NSF is proud to co-sponsor CCIC and pleased that for years the Challenge has provided a space to spur ingenuity, collaboration and showcase the great work that is being nurtured in the nation’s community colleges,” said Sylvia Butterfield, NSF acting director for education and human resources, the directorate funding the program. “This competition demonstrates the diversity of STEM talent and creativity that exists at community colleges across the country and furthers NSF’s mission to broaden participation of students from various backgrounds to pursue and achieve their STEM career goals.”

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