TCC Has Two Teams as Finalists in National Science Foundation Challenge

April 21, 2015

Two teams of students from Tulsa Community College have ideas that will take them to Washington D.C. and the National Science Foundation (NSF) this summer. The two teams were named as top 10 finalists in the NSF Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC).

The students were asked to propose innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based solutions to some of America’s most daunting challenges such as infrastructure security, sustainability (including water, food, energy, and environment) and STEM participation.

One TCC team examined the potential impact of drought and severe weather on cultivatable land and the yield of crops. Believing Oklahoma’s harsh summer climate to be a perfect laboratory, the group focused on food in urban environments with a new approach to rooftop gardens involving sun shades and wind breaks. The proposal also creates a local and sustainable option for growing food. While acknowledging the issue of water scarcity expected under climate change, the second team’s solution addresses food sustainability while engaging young students in STEM. The team believes aquaponics, which is a symbiotic relationship of raising fish and growing plants in water, can be used to cultivate the next generation of STEM students in high school and junior high.

“TCC is the only community college in the country with two teams chosen as finalists and we are thrilled with the recognition of their hard work,” said TCC President and CEO Leigh B. Goodson, Ph.D. “The CCIC highlights the research opportunities and scientific work taking place on our campuses at TCC, as well as other community colleges across the country.”

The National Science Foundation created the CCIC because more than 40 percent of U.S. undergraduates are enrolled at community colleges. Groups underrepresented in STEM, as well as first-generation college students make up a significant portion of students on community college campuses. NSF-funded projects at community colleges support STEM students transferring to four-year colleges, as well as receiving education and training to become part of the high-tech workforce, in fields as diverse as biotechnology, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.

The TCC students are headed to Washington D.C. in June for an Innovation Boot Camp co-hosted by NSF and the American Association of Community Colleges. This intensive professional workshop will provide immersion in the thinking, skills, and tools that help transform innovation into entrepreneurship. At the Camp, students will network, interact with experts, and receive coaching and mentoring, as well as guidance during sessions and activities that will help them further validate, refine, develop, and potentially implement their novel solutions to real-world problems.

Innovation Boot Camp participants will also exhibit their innovations at a reception on Capitol Hill, hosted by U.S. Rep. David Price from North Carolina on June 17. Price works to improve higher education and make it more affordable for working families. The NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, established by a Price-authored bill in 1993, helps community colleges upgrade their training programs for jobs in high-tech fields.

The aquaponics team consists of TCC students Jonathan Thompson, Dallas Elleman, Brenda Romero, Mark Harvey and TCC faculty mentor Mary Phillips. The food in urban environments team consists of Travis Bramblett, Katie McMillan, Bridget Dixon, Andrea Haddox, team leader Joe Nowicki, and TCC faculty mentor Valerie O'Brien.

For full details on the contest, visit the challenge website for the eligibility criteria, entry guidelines, timeline and prize information. You may also watch the 20 semifinalist videos from which the 10 finalists were chosen. This challenge furthers NSF's mission by enabling students to discover and demonstrate their ingenuity to use science to make a difference in the world and transfer knowledge into action. It also furthers the benefit of incorporating research into the traditional teaching mission of the community college. Get updates on Twitter: #CCIChallenge.

Photo 1: (team in black t-shirts): (l to r) Travis Bramblett, Katie McMillan, Bridget Dixon, Andrea Haddox, team leader Joe Nowicki, TCC faculty mentor Valerie O'Brien

Photo 2: (l to r) Jonathan Thompson, Dallas Elleman, Brenda Romero and Mark Harvey, TCC faculty mentor Mary Phillips (not pictured)