After months of online meetings, arguments, and victories, a group of Austin Community College District (ACC) students meets for the first time to commemorate their big accomplishment.
“We've been communicating on Slack and through Zoom and Google Meets, I guess since last October and November. So it's definitely a treat to actually see people in the flesh,” says ACC student Cameron Primm.
“I was wondering, you know, how tall everybody is. We've been on late-night calls, you know, getting into arguments about what this should be,” says ACC student Tina Avent.
Rounding out the team are Justin X. Hale and Cimone Almestica. Out of more than 400 entries, the Visual Communications students in the User Experience (UX) program finished third in this year’s Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC). The nationwide competition advances student impact through STEM solutions to real-world challenges that foster innovation, research, and entrepreneurial skills.
ACC’s team, Justice for All, competed with its project OASIS–– which analyzes data from smart wearable devices like body cameras to help understand reactions during a crisis. OASIS 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.
“OASIS intends to take all the body camera footage generated daily by police departments and use artificial intelligence to analyze it. Right now, with the vast amount of footage, it is only reviewed at random or high-profile incidents. OASIS will indicate signs of stress or concern earlier,” says Tina.
“My dad is the Chief of Police in Galveston and I remember asking him why they didn’t review all the video, and he made it clear there just isn’t enough time in the day for that,” says Justin. “OASIS will change the approach. This system is proactive. It will start building trust between our community and police.”
ACC was among the twelve final teams in the CCIC that 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.
After placing, Justice for All plans to push this software further and start developing the coding to take it to police departments.
“We're going to do more research and contact police departments to work with us a little more. Having the right people on our side will help us develop this further,” says Cimone.
All the team members are well equipped to push through. Some enrolled in ACC after losing their jobs, while others were looking to skill-up.
“I already have my bachelor’s degree, so when I decided to come back to school, I did my research. I was picky. I chose ACC because they were offering a lot more hands-on experience. They showed me it was a lot more deep diving than just sitting in a classroom. We're working on real-life social issues from day one, it is fantastic,” says Justin.
“My bachelor's degrees were in English and Media Studies. They were great programs but weren't setting me up for a specific career trajectory right away. When I first discovered the UX program, a lightning bolt went off. It filled the gap in my design education. You don't really see a whole lot of that at least for UX design specifically, It's very rare to find a program like this,” says Cameron.
“I lost my job. I did not land in as good a place as I'd hoped. The user experience design is kind of an offshoot of my early web development career. I'm really glad I jumped back into college because I got to a point where I wasn't learning a lot of new things,” says Tina.
“I started school in spring 2020. Then the pandemic happened and I lost my job. I knew I had time to do more extracurricular activities, like this competition. Being able to do this kind of hands-on project is really important and just rounds out my education,” says Cimone.
The challenge requires teams to assess their innovation’s potential impact, identify its scientific and market feasibility, and determine its societal relevance. As a heavily STEM-focused competition, placing in the top three helped the team feel like they belong.
“We come from a visual communication background. In our field, it isn’t uncommon to feel like you are faking it. This accomplishment helped us get rid of some of this imposter syndrome. In the design field, we're always looking to see what other people are doing and trying to figure out how we can incorporate ourselves.”
The students were, mentored by ACC IMPACT Lab Coordinator Eric Hepburn. 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.