Students Tackle Global and Local Issues in NSF-Sponsored Ideathon

BMCC Ideathon logo

May 5, 2022

The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Technology Learning Community — a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project group that provides students with opportunities to build STEM classroom success and prepares them for the STEM workforce — hosted its first BMCC Ideathon during the month of March.

This event as well as others including both the Fall 2021 Virtual Hack-A-Thon: Hacking for Social Good and Innovation and ongoing Success and Innovation Labs — the latter of which provide peer and industry mentoring as well as collaborative projects — have been supported by a $500,000, three-year grant awarded by the NSF in Fall 2021 to engage underrepresented and women students in STEM courses, activities and career paths.

The overarching NSF-funded project, “Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Implementation and Evaluation: Bridging the Gap: Designing a Technology Learning Community Integrating Computational Thinking to Improve STEM Engagement Across Disciplines,” represents a collaboration between CIS Professors Mohammad Azhar (Project Lead and Principal Investigator), Younes Benkarroum (Co-PI); Sociology Professors Elizabeth Wissinger (Co-PI) and Rifat A. Salam, and Business Professor Sahana Sen (Senior Personnel).

The March 2022 Ideathon was attended by more than 200 students from Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, Marketing and Sociology classes at BMCC. Together, they created 39 mixed-major, interdisciplinary teams using STEM to build innovative solutions to plausible global problems presented to them as part of the Ideathon competition.

Each team presented its solution as part of their BMCC coursework, then finalists presented their work to a panel of judges, industry professionals from Google and other companies.

The judges also shared with students their experiences and skills for success in two virtual career panels on Wednesday, April 6 and Friday, April 8.

“These panels allowed students to better understand the relevance of the skills they developed in the Ideathon, such as collaboration across disciplines and solving real-world problems. It also gave them a glimpse of what comprises employability in their respective fields, and gave them an opportunity to engage with industry professionals,” said Professor Azhar.

Winning teams awarded summer internship to a BMCC Technology Learning Community

The March and April 2022 Ideathon uses a model that can be replicated to enable Hispanic, underrepresented and women students to persist in STEM-allied fields. It combines computational thinking within both formal and informal learning, according to Professor Azhar.

The event was organized around three themes: Racial Justice, Misinformation and Disinformation, and Consumer Safety. Students on the winning teams landed internships in the BMCC Technology Learning Community Summer 2022.

“Projects were judged by criteria related to their completeness, transferability, effectiveness, efficiency, design, usability, creativity and innovation,” says Professor Azhar. “The summer internships will give the first-place teams a chance to further develop their concepts.”

Students propose solutions addressing inequity, health injustice and more

The Racial Justice competition category consisted of 13 teams with 87 students. Six teams were selected as finalists and then one team, Judex, was declared the winner, featuring students Ajibola Odufade, Levon Turner, Emily Wu, Caleb Adjei and Johana Velasquez.

According to the Racial Justice team’s winning statement, “The American judicial system is racially biased within law enforcement as well as in court. It’s statistically shown that people of color, especially African-Americans are more likely to face racial bias from the authorities and judges as well as more likely to be incarcerated with harsher punishments compared to other races.”

To address this inequity, students created a rubric for scoring the fairness or unfairness of judges, and recommended a consequence of reprimand if a judge is deemed to be making decisions based on bias.

The Misinformation and Disinformation First Place team emerged from eight teams, with four moving on to become finalists. Students on the First Place team, which focused on COVID-19 misinformation, included Eliza Tejada, Bar Kroitoro, Ali Muhammad Subhan and Elizabeth Phillips.

According to the Misinformation and Disinformation team’s winning statement, “COVID 19, a pandemic, is spreading fast globally. Those who are not experts in the health industry are getting misinformation and disinformation through the media and social media, sowing doubt and confusion about the virus.”

To solve this problem, the team suggested an app that provides COVID-related information and highlights the difference between anti- and pro-science facts. Additional links built into the app would direct the user to reliable and accurate sources.

In the area of Consumer Safety, 93 students split into 18 teams with six teams moving on to become finalists.

The first prize went to the Smell Gas, Act Fast team with students Zoraida Ingles, Adrian Sigal, Jiamin Shi, Esther Mallen, Thet Thant Rain and Zulkiflou Soumailou. The Consumer Safety team’s winning statement describes their solution as a companion app to indoor/outdoor fire alarm systems that detect natural gas leaks.

In the team’s words: “Upon detection, our app will send alerts to authorities and utilities to immediately send someone to the location, to patch the leak. Consumers can download a consumer-facing version of the app to report leaks on their own … This mobile alert system will help authorities and utility companies act fast on stopping the gas leak before any more deaths or injuries occur.”

Next steps in the ongoing NSF-funded programming

The next step for students who took part in the Ideathon is to continue their professional development in BMCC Success and Innovation Labs and to take part in the BMCC summer internship program as well as attending Makeathons, Hackathons and other NSF-sponsored programming.

“We are interested to expand the students’ interdisciplinary Ideathon projects within CIS courses as well as courses in majors such as Business and Sociology,” says Professor Azhar. “We are also reaching out to colleagues whose areas of expertise could enhance our offerings to students,  and who could share insights into supporting the success of Hispanic, underrepresented and women students in STEM.”

To explore these and other collaborations, interested faculty are invited to reach out to Professor Azhar at

This NSF-funded STEM project relates to many of the college’s Strategic Goals including Strategic Goal 3: Integrate Career Development Throughout the Student Experience.


  • BMCC hosted its first Ideathon in March and April 2022; students from an array of majors formed interdisciplinary teams to solve real-world problems with STEM
  • The Ideathon and earlier events including last fall’s Virtual Hack-A-Thon are funded by a $500,000, three-year, Hispanic-Service Institution (HSI) grant awarded by the NSF in Fall 2021
  • The purpose of the grant is to engage underrepresented and women students in STEM courses, activities and career paths

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