In photo from left to right: Tina Avent, Justin Hale, Cimone Almestica, Cameron Primm
A group of Austin Community College District (ACC) students finished among the top in the nation in this year’s Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC). Out of more than 400 submissions nationwide, the ACC team placed third with their project aimed at bridging the trust between police departments and their communities.
“The teams we were up against were seriously amazing — cancer researchers, environmentalists, computer scientists. Even making it to the finals was a huge deal! To be recognized by leaders in the innovation world was the greatest feeling of my career thus far,” says Cimone Almestica, ACC student winner. “Using machine learning, we’ve automated the footage review process by identifying incidents that would’ve gone unnoticed otherwise, while also creating a tool for sergeants to make more informed decisions about their officers during performance evaluations.”
Almestica and three other ACC students — Tina Avent, Justin Hale, and Cameron Primm — worked together to create Project OASIS. It’s designed to analyze data from smart wearable devices like body cameras to help understand reactions during a crisis and aims to automate footage review while scanning for signs of acute stress in officers in the hope of providing the department with information before stress manifests itself into violence.
“It was intimidating being in a STEM competition, but the importance of our project kept us going,” says Avent. “Our project tackles the breakdown of trust between the community and police from a place of empathy. I think empathy all around is needed in many aspects of society.”
The competition advances student impact through STEM solutions to real-world challenges that foster innovation, research, and entrepreneurial skills.
“Community colleges remain at the forefront of innovation. This accomplishment shows just how committed ACC is to helping students excel in their field and create real-world change,” says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC chancellor. “I am so proud of this team. STEM is a major field in Austin, and this competition shows what community college students are capable of and able to achieve.”
All of the students in ACC’s team, Justice for All, are user experience (UX) design students in the Visual Communications Program and were mentored by ACC IMPACT Lab Coordinator Eric Hepburn.
“I was thrilled to be part of a team of designers to place in the top three of a national STEM competition. This competition shows the importance of designers and design thinking at the highest levels,” says Hale. “We had to ideate a way in which we can use STEM to solve real-world problems. Our mission is to rebuild trust between police officers and their communities because without care there can be no justice.”
Out of all the entries, only twelve teams participated in a Virtual Boot Camp in June, where they were coached before presenting a five-minute pitch presentation about the project on their unique innovations. The challenge requires teams to assess their innovation’s potential impact, identify its scientific and market feasibility, and determine its societal relevance.
“When winners were announced, I remember seeing a team member turn their camera off as they burst into tears out of joy. The successes and failures that come from doing competition work are deeply enriching as I navigate the UX design field,” says Primm. “We brainstormed ways we could use STEM innovations to tackle a societal problem. We narrowed the focus to what can be done about police brutality, leveraging the rise of body cameras with the growth of machine learning.”
The CCIC competition is hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Science Foundation.
To learn more about CCIC, visit www.aaccinnovationchallenge.com.
For more information on ACC’s Visual Communication program, visit austincc.edu/viscom.