For a handful of students who previously competed in the Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC), which focuses on developing STEM-related solutions to real-world problems, it wasn’t so much the technical parts of the competition that were tough — it was the public speaking.
At Monday’s kickoff to the 2022 CCIC boot camp, this year’s 12 finalist teams comprising students and faculty advisors heard from previous CCIC participants about what to expect over the next few days and what they themselves gained from the experience. At the development camp, the teams over the week will hear from experts who will advise them how to research and market their innovations before they pitch their product ideas to a panel of judges to win cash prizes. The annual event is funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by the American Association of Community Colleges.
Sharna Hossain, a 2021 CCIC student team member from Borough of Manhattan Community College (New York), said the public-speaking portion not only helped her in the competition, but the developed skill has carried over to other parts of her life and built up her confidence.
Godfrey Ssenyonga, a 2017 CCIC student participant from Frederick Community College (Maryland), agreed that the program instills confidence, though his experience was more dramatic. The teammate who was supposed to make the pitch before the judges froze when he learned it was being recorded. So Ssenyonga had to step up and do it, though he was just as nervous.
Marla Moock, who was a member of the 2021 Virginia Western Community College team that worked on a product to preserve coral reefs, said her squad focused almost extensively on the science side of their project. The information they learned on how to gather information that investors will want and how to pitch the idea to them was new territory. Because it was out of their comfort zone, it was nerve-wracking, she said.
“It was like a little Shark Tank,” Moock said, referring to the TV show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their product ideas to a panel of investors.
Danial Nasr, a 2017 CCIC student participant from Del Mar College (Texas), had a similar experience. (Read his story.) He said he filled a notebook with information he learned about market research, manufacturing issues to consider and more.
The panel of students also gave advice on how to pitch during their poster presentations on Capitol Hill that draws congressional leaders, staffers and officials from various federal agencies. Nasr recommended to take complex ideas and present them in a way for everyone to understand. But it’s important to know the science behind the product and to explain it thoroughly.
“Know your science. Think about what the average Joe would ask,” he said.
Ssenyonga’s team used some of what they learned at the boot camp to advertise the poster presentations to their congressional representatives. He said his team not only visited their Senate and House members’ offices during the competition, they also tagged them in Twitter posts about the event. It worked, he said. Three lawmakers came to the event, and he still keeps in contact with one of them.