Top 12 community college innovations include MaskKito

This year's most creative real-world community college solutions address the pandemic, environment and health.
By: | May 14, 2021
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The MaskKito. The Greenago. The EnviroMask. The Shroomzzz. And the OASIS.

Those are just a few of the creative names that are among a dozen amazing real-world solutions that are being pitched by students at community colleges across the United States.

This week the National Science Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges selected those four and eight other brilliant inventions to be finalists in this year’s Community College Innovation Challenge.

The hands-on initiative annually asks teams of STEM-focused students (two to four) to pair up with a faculty or mentor from their college to design products or come with ideas that solve everyday problems. Over the past year, the most obvious challenge across society has been around the COVID-19 pandemic.

And so was born the MaskKito, a project from Henry Ford Community College in Michigan that is at sounds – the development of a mask that can destroy viruses using nano-fiber weaves and UVC radiation. There was also the EnviroMask from Nashua Community College in New Hampshire, which solves the environmental problem of mask disposal by making one that is fully biodegradable using cotton, bioplastic and non-woven bamboo fiber.

“The students competing in this challenge are leaders in innovation, and their use of STEM solutions to benefit society are not only highly significant but necessary in helping to secure a strong future,” said Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC. “Our post-pandemic world will need fresh, innovative minds to design creative solutions to help those that need it most, and we are excited to help facilitate the process.”

Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana also got in on the COVID-19 trend by creating Viruscan, a self-administered test that automatically sends an alert to primary care providers when a positive result in registered. And while Pasadena City College is working on a project that explores “the use of antibody conjugated nanoparticles to assist in the identification and treatment of cancer” it also could be applied to infectious diseases, too.

“It is truly inspiring to see the creativity and amazing talent of students in the nation’s community colleges, and I would like to congratulate the finalists for their hard work,” said Karen Marrongelle, assistant director for NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate. “We need to inspire new generations across all communities to explore the wonders of science and engineering, and CCIC is an exciting opportunity for students to start thinking about STEM careers. I look forward to learning more about their projects and the contributions these students will make to America’s STEM future.”

The 12 finalists will each take part in a virtual boot camp in June where they will be connected with various stakeholders and entrepreneurs while learning how to position their products. Students will share their works in an Innovation Showcase to STEM and Congressional leaders and then be judged. The top three winners will earn acclaim and cash prizes.

The pandemic is only one of many outstanding topics being highlighted during this year’s Challenge.

  • Two of the most heartfelt efforts come from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, whose team is efforting to teach children with autism life skills through accessible and affordable virtual reality apps; and Johnson County Community College in Kansas, whichis creating a mechanical bench that can help drivers with mobility needs transfer from their seat to the back of their vehicles.
  • Meanwhile, two Texas institutions feature very different applications. Austin Community College’s OASIS (Officer Aptitude & Stress Information System) addresses data used in officer-involved incidents (camera footage, GPS systems, and heart-rate monitors) through artificial intelligence. Tarrant County College’s Shroomzzz, meanwhile, is an In-Hive Mushroom Cultivator that hopes to boost the health of bee colonies.
  • Keeping with the environmental theme: The team from Bergen Community College in New Jersey is proposing modular kits that convert gas-powered pickup trucks to fully electric vehicles; Columbus State (Ohio) Community College’s Greenago: Turning Colleges Green project rewards college students for using campus recycling SMART recycling via apps; Itawamba Community College in Mississippi is developing filtration systems (the Achelous project) for rural areas that keep water clean and provides it to homeless populations in emergencies; and Virginia Western Community College’s project will support coral growth, amazingly, through 3D printing of plastic substitutes made from fermented plant starch.

More information on the event can be found at www.aaccinnovationchallenge.com.