Posted on February 22nd in News

PTK Webinar Pitches the Community College Innovation Challenge 

CCIC Finalists

The Community College Innovation Challenge is a competition with thousands of dollars in cash prizes for each member of the top three teams. For all the members of the 12 finalist teams whose ideas qualify them for an all-expenses paid trip to the CCIC’s Innovation Boot Camp, it’s also a fabulous networking opportunity.

And it’s the networking with other innovative community college students and industry experts that participants mention most frequently afterward.

“Initially, I anticipated the competition to be solely about presenting our project to jurors, but it turned out to offer so much more, thanks to the enriching networking opportunities and the insightful coaching sessions,” Florian Charles said. He was a member of the Borough of Manhattan Community College team that pitched an intelligent app for dementia care at the 2023 Innovation Boot Camp. Charles traces his current pursuit of admission to a selective university engineering program to the encouraging conversation he had with Dr. James L. Moore, assistant director for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for STEM Education, after the team’s presentation to the judges.    

Florian Charles liked the way the Community College Innovation Challenge blended networking opportunities and insightful coaching into the Innovation Boot Camp. Charles was on the Borough of Manhattan Community College team that was one of 12 CCIC finalists in 2023. Photo:

Sebastian Mattio-Smith, a member of Bergen County Community College’s 2023 team, explained in an email that his favorite part of the Innovation Boot Camp “was the chance to see other like-minded individuals like myself who bring passion, charisma, and creativity to projects that have a chance to make a real difference. My second favorite part was definitely the chance to tour Washington D.C.” The Bergen team’s project was an electric go-kart and manufacturing guidebook. 

Neeko Phelps remembers feeling “the combined intellect in the room” where competitors and the industry experts and entrepreneurs who serve as CCIC coaches energetically talked during boot camp sessions. Phelps was a member of the Houston Community College team that won the 2023 CCIC with its idea for a device that helps firefighters.

Learn how to have a shot at this amazing experience by attending The Community College Innovation Challenge – Why You Should Apply!, a free webinar hosted by Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) from 3 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 29.

To register for the webinar—that is open to all community college students—click here.

The CCIC is led by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is a national competition where community college student teams, working with a faculty or administrator mentor, use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to innovate solutions to real-world problems; receive full travel support to attend an Innovation Boot Camp held in Washington, D.C.; and compete for cash awards of up to $3,000 per team member.

Up to 12 finalist teams will be selected to attend the Innovation Boot Camp and receive coaching designed to build strategic communication and entrepreneurial skills. Finalist teams also participate in a Student Innovation Session, an engagement opportunity with STEM leaders and Congressional stakeholders, and a pitch presentation in front of a panel of industry professionals.

During the February 29 webinar a CCIC judge and a student finalist team member from the 2023 competition will explain why you should form a team and submit your innovative idea by the April 2 deadline.

If you are still on the fence about entering the CCIC consider this advice from Ravi Brahmbhatt, the director of Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Houston Community College and mentor of the team that won in 2023: “Just do it! 90% of success in life is just showing up!”

Other Advice from 2023 Finalists

Mattio-Smith advises competitors to boost their confidence by remembering the research and design mindset that got them to the Innovation Boot Camp, but to be ready for something completely different.

Interacting with other community college students who bring “passion, charisma, and creativity to projects” was Sebastian Mattio-Smith’s favorite part of the Innovation Boot Camp in 2023. He was a member of the Bergen Community College team. The Bergen team members, from left to right, were Richard Boada, PJ Ricatto (Mentor), Sebastian Mattio-Smith, and John Griffith. Photo:

“This challenge requires a shift in thinking to that of an entrepreneur and a business person. Judges want to see that you can defend the science as well as the business potential of your ideas!” he wrote in an email. After he graduates from Bergen Community College in May, Mattio-Smith plans to transfer to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

Charles said that initially he was reluctant to tell other competitors about his team’s project because he didn’t want to give away any of their ideas. But after a full day at the boot camp, he realized that sharing detailed information was a good way to get helpful suggestions.

“Don’t be afraid to connect with the panelists and the other teams and talk to them about your project more often. They can raise an important question that you’ve never thought about, and this question might redirect your perspective,” Charles said. He recalled that when he and his Borough of Manhattan Community College teammates shared their pitch script with Dr. Martha Parham, AACC senior vice president for Public Relations, her feedback led to a complete rewrite. It was “harsh” to hear that their presentation was over-packed with technical information and at six minutes, much too long. But Charles said, “She helped us.”

Phelps said the Houston Community College team members also refined their presentation based on what they learned during the boot camp, but that they—like the Borough of Manhattan Community College team and other teams—did this work after sightseeing and restaurant meals with other teams.

“My advice to future challenge participants is to have fun with the challenge. You will meet tons of new people and it will change you as a person,” Phelps said. The Houston Community College graduate is enrolled in the Iron Range Engineering Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

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