Public Release: 

Western Dakota Tech earns first place in 4th annual Community College Innovation Challenge

Team innovates new method that simultaneously cultivates plants and fish

National Science Foundation

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IMAGE: Western Dakota Tech presents their project, Electrical Automation to Solve Hunger, at a White House poster session. view more 

Credit: Bill Petros Photography

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) awarded Western Dakota Tech from Rapid City, South Dakota first place in the 2018 fourth annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC).

Judges awarded second place to Oakton Community College from Des Plaines, Illinois for their Heat Recovering Silencer project.

NSF and AACC established the challenge to encourage the nation's community colleges to develop the necessary STEM-based talent among their students. Community colleges represent an important academic sector for developing individuals with special skills, training and knowledge to perform highly technical job responsibilities.

Western Dakota Tech's innovative approach to reducing U.S. hunger by using aquaponics, a method in which both plants and fish are cultivated in a symbiotic life cycle, made them the preeminent team in this year's fourth-annual challenge. The team designed an electrically automated system in which fish are cultivated in the same water used to grow plants, giving users the ability to "set it and forget it."

According to Western Dakota Tech's project materials, one in six people in America are hungry. Globally, poor nutrition causes nearly 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five each year.

Students who developed the project include Tanner Blank, Joseph Cattin, Jonathan Eggers, Matthew Kerner, Bryan Mitchell and Nicholas Smith. They were selected from among 10 finalist teams across the country that participated in a multi-month process that required them to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to solve a pressing challenge.

The 10 teams spent this week attending a four-day innovation "boot camp" in Alexandria, Virginia, which included a White House reception on Wednesday where teams presented their projects to members of the administration, Congress and legislative staff.

NSF Director France Córdova said that the students' innovative projects underscored the fact that STEM-based solutions to complex problems can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.

"These students represent the extraordinary talent that exists in our nation's community colleges," Córdova said. "NSF finds ways to nurture that talent and provide students with opportunities to engage in STEM learning and problem-solving throughout their academic careers. These skills are critical to achieving a skilled technical workforce and maintaining the nation's competitive edge."

During the boot camp, the students met with members of the National Science Board and spoke with experts about how to transition their ideas to a successful business, how to understand their customer base and how to communicate the value of their innovations. They also took part in mock interviews and received feedback on their presentations.

"AACC is a proud partner of the Innovation Challenge, and all of the finalists are an amazing credit to their colleges," said Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC. "On behalf of AACC, we would like to congratulate the winning teams. These students represent the best of America and are leaders in innovation that will benefit society now and in the years to come."

Other winning teams and their projects included:

Central Lakes College, Minnesota: Supporting Our Service Members

Supporting Our Service Members is a STEM approach that leverages mobile technology to help active military as well as veterans' families cope with stress, especially during a time of crisis.

Forsyth Technical Community College, North Carolina: Illumination Innovation

Illumination Innovation uses field-induced polymer electroluminescent lights to reduce the costs associated with growing produce in urban greenhouses.

Laney College, California: Integrated Thermal Electric Solar Water Heater

Integrated Thermal Electric Solar Water Heater integrates a heat collector on the back of a solar electric panel to capture unused thermal energy to heat water for natural disaster victims, homeless individuals and those living or camping in isolated regions.

Los Angeles Mission College, California: Using wastewater to generate electricity in LA

This project uses bacteria in an innovative microbial fuel cell configuration to treat wastewater and produce energy.

Northern Virginia Community College, Virginia: Chariteering

Chariteering is a web-based platform that facilitates collaboration between individuals who need assistance in the wake of disaster and engineers or professionals who would like to volunteer to help find solutions.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Wisconsin: Easy Cast

Easy Cast is an efficient and cost-effective invention for mass producing a versatile, hands-free fishing apparatus that allows individuals with limited physical ability to enjoy fishing.

Oakton Community College, Illinois: Heat Recovering Silencer

The Heat Recovering Silencer project replaces the traditional vehicle muffler with a new device that maintains noise reduction while recovering exhaust heat.

Ohlone College, California: Drone System for the Detection of Landmines

This project combines drone technology, nanotechnology and materials science to offer an inexpensive and safe way to detect landmines.

Red Rocks Community College, Colorado: Knee Assisting Exoskeleton

The Knee Assisting Exoskeleton project attempts to reduce weight on the knee joint with a full leg exoskeleton, creating a brace that will assist patients with a faster and more efficient recovery.

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