NYC students spark innovative ideas to improve higher education, city services using IBM Watson

CUNY and IBM Announce Winners in Student App Competition

NEW YORK, Jan. 15, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the City University of New York (CUNY) today announced student winners of a technology contest to propose innovative ideas that might help solve some of the urban challenges of New York City residents, as well as those of college and university students, using IBM Watson next generation technology.

IBM's Watson is a cognitive computing innovation that can analyze volumes of data, understand complex questions posed in natural language, and propose evidence-based answers that help improve decision-making.

This student app competition hosted by CUNY and IBM is the latest example of how IBM has been working closely with academia to apply Watson's capabilities to solve complex challenges, give students access to hands-on training and industry experts, and build valuable technology and business skills that will shape the next generation of urban leaders.

CUNY students majoring in a wide range of disciplines -- including computer science, marketing, economics, math, urban studies, and finance -- teamed up to propose Watson-based apps that could improve City government services and universities.

The winners proposed creative ideas, envisioning Watson-powered apps that could help city social workers better serve children and families by analyzing patterns; create a more efficient 311 system staffed by virtual agents and aided by predictive analysis; and an automated advisor for undergraduates and college counselors that will help identify and schedule ideal courses.

Earlier today, 10 student team finalists, who were selected out of more than 100 CUNY students, underwent a final round of judging to determine how well they articulated their vision and concept and applied Watson's key capabilities. Also evaluated was the potential impact on target markets and the plausibility of turning their business plan into a reality.  Three winning teams were selected by a panel of industry and faculty judges, including representatives from Baruch College, New York City Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation, Con Edison, and IBM.

Top teams were awarded a total of $10,000 in cash prizes donated by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation: $5,000 for the first-place team, $3,000 for the second-place team and $2,000 for third place. All participants will have an opportunity to sign up for summer internships winners and hone their skills and ideas at CUNY's Center for Student Entrepreneurship Incubator, a university-wide program that helps CUNY students launch their own businesses, create jobs, and support student-led ventures.

Here were the winners:

1st place –Children & Families: Watson LMSW              

Watson LMSW, a virtual case worker assistant, would aim to reduce the bureaucratic burden facing the City's social workers. The app would provide detailed reports and help analyze patterns of abuse, saving child welfare workers valuable time and allowing them to better serve the City's children and families.

Lizeth Mejia, Junior, Accounting and Economics major, Queens College
Nekita Singh, Senior, Urban and Women's Studies major, Queens College
Kimberly Sy, Senior, Biology major, Queens College

2nd place –311 System: SmartCall

SmartCall could serve as a virtual agent to help create a more organized and efficient 311 system, saving the City money and resources. By being the first line of defense in addressing callers' concerns and providing operators with info on complex cases, SmartCall can harness the City's data to predict and resolve complaints.

Saad Abbasi, Freshman, Economics major, John Jay College
Qasim Ashraf, Junior, Mathematics major, City College
Hassan Naeem, Freshman, Computer Science major, Queens College
Owais Naeem, Graduate, Computer Engineering major, City College

3rd place –Education: Advyzr

A mobile app that would advise undergraduates and college counselors on ideal courses and schedules based on learning preferences, graduation requirements, majors, and career goals. It would seamlessly integrate academic targets and user preferences.

Marcus Cooper, Senior, International Marketing major, Baruch College
Brian Gonzalez, Senior, International Marketing major, Baruch College
Michael Gusman, Undergraduate, Marketing major, Baruch College
Gabriel Maldonado, Junior, Computer Science major, Hunter College

Last October, IBM Watson opened its global headquarters at 51 Astor Place, making New York City the epicenter of a new era of cognitive computing. To provide city students with an opportunity to explore cutting edge technology, CUNY will also be offering a course on Watson cognitive computing system in the fall of 2015.

The CUNY-IBM tech challenge attracted over 300 students from 18 CUNY campuses. Of those, 117 were invited to participate in a two-day boot camp in October at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. There, with the help of IBM mentors and CUNY faculty members, they received a crash course on Watson technology and honed their ideas to apply Watson to boost City higher education and government services, such as public safety, health and transportation.

"This competition unleashes the talent of some of New York City's best and brightest," said Stanley S. Litow, IBM Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation. "By exploring ways to improve the lives of New Yorkers using next generation technology, today's students will be encouraged and inspired to become tomorrow's innovators."

"The partnership with IBM offers students the opportunity to look into the future and the way society does business and provides services. It empowers students to shape the future that they will inherit," said Stan Altman, PhD., Professor at Baruch College School of Public Affairs. "The CUNY-IBM Watson competition is an opportunity for students to think about how to reshape higher education and how city services are delivered."

IBM has been hosting Watson Case Competitions since 2014, giving students a glimpse into the promise Watson holds to transform industry and professions. The Watson University Competition that IBM recently held in the heart of New York City's "Silicon Alley" builds on IBM's long-standing work with the academic community to better prepare students for in-demand jobs, including previous academic competitions at Cornell, the University of Southern California, and others. 

The Watson ecosystem of innovators continues to expand with more than 2,000 businesses and entrepreneurs seeking to revolutionize business with cognitive based apps.  Through partnerships with top educational institutions across the country, the IBM Watson Group is now empowering students from a range of disciplines for careers to move the cognitive era forward.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 24-percent increase in demand for professionals with management analysis skills over the next eight years. The McKinsey Global Institute projects a need for approximately 190,000 more workers with analytics expertise and 1.5 million more data-savvy managers in the United States.


Angie Hu
IBM Media Relations
(917) 841-0354

Manny Romero
Baruch College, Director of Public Relations
(646) 660-6141



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