Student and Alumni News

Over 200 CUNY students competed in the CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge that invites undergraduates to harness artificial intelligence for the benefit of society. The top two teams both had Macaulay Honors College students in their ranks.

The competition challenges students to explore creative applications for cognitive computing with the goal of improving service to the public by local governments and institutions of higher learning. The final round was held at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services Center on May 3.

“The CUNY-IBM Watson competition compels our students to utilize the skills they have mastered in the classroom to solve concrete policy challenges,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “This year’s winners developed tools that can aid veterans, the city’s subway system and the University’s academic support services. That kind of applied learning can prepare CUNY students for a career, but just as importantly, it equips them to become fully engaged community residents.”

The contest tests students’ mastery of the skills that are critical for success in 21st century careers: critical thinking, complex problem solving, technological literacy and capability with research methods. The winning team, composed of three students from Macaulay Honors College and one from the College of Staten Island, developed an A.I.-powered assistant that can be utilized by trained volunteers to improve mental health services for veterans. Two students from Macaulay and one from Hunter College took second place, and four students from Baruch College took third place.

Baruch’s Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs administered the competition, along with support from IBM and The Lawrence Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College. The Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Health and the NYC Administration for Children’s Services also participated. This year, 210 students from 19 campuses competed.

A look at the winning projects:

First place. Guardian: This is a cloud-based, A.I.-driven mental health assistant geared specifically to help veterans, a group for whom suicide is 1.5 and 1.8 times more prevalent among men and women, respectively, than the general population. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Using REX (IBM Watson-based A.I.), the developers say they can evaluate the mental state of users and direct them to needed services. Cloud connectivity will provide support to those in need at any time, regardless of their location. The A.I.-driven system, in concert with a network of trained volunteers, can provide 24/7 support channels and potentially cut suicide rates in half. Team members: Egor Semeniak, Vincent Vitiello and Anthony Astarita, Macaulay Honors College; and Mark Vitebsky, College of Staten Island.

Second place. Watson Study Buddy: Many CUNY students struggle to adjust to the lecture-based learning that is predominant in higher education, causing them to be enrolled in remedial classes, where they continue to struggle and face a heightened risk of dropping out. Watson Study Buddy can empower students to improve, achieve and succeed. Using the IBM-Watson speech-to-text Application Programming Interface, lectures are transcribed and a personalized review sheet is made, along with links to supplemental resources – giving students access to individualized study materials that adapt to them. The platform also provides personalized quizzes, tailored to each individual, so students can practice in necessary areas. Study Buddy shares student performance with professors, so they no longer have to guess whether students are grasping the material or are at risk of failing upcoming exams. Team members: Karina Ionkina and Andy Mina, Macaulay Honors College; Anthony Sokolov, Hunter College.

All 8 participants are also members of the Macaulay MHC++ Club.