HFC team named Community College Innovation Challenge finalist for AI-based app

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Photo of Soliman Touelh, Hasan Termos, Alayna Kondraciuk, Dr. Hassan Mohseni Nameghi, and Bryant Bagnall.

The National Science Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges has named HFC as one of 12 finalists in the 2023 Community College Innovation Challenge.

Now in its seventh year, the CCIC seeks to strengthen entrepreneurial thinking among community college students by challenging them to develop innovative solutions to real-world problems. It also enables students to discover and demonstrate their capacity to use STEM to make a difference in the world and to translate that knowledge into action.

HFC is the only community college in Michigan participating in the CCIC. For the last 10 years, HFC has been among the top finalists in the CCIC five times, including 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2021. There was no CCIC competition in the 2019-20 academic year.

This year’s team comprises HFC students Alayna Kondraciuk, Bryant Bagnall, Hasan Termos, and Soliman Touelh, all of whom are members of the Henry Ford II Honors Program. Their mentors include HFC Pre-Engineering Program Director Dr. Hassan Mohseni Nameghi and HFC physics and astronomy instructor Jesse Mason.

"Innovation is a fine line between ambition and resilience, and that is who we are,” said Nameghi. “We are blessed with creative students who are trying very hard to turn their ideas to reality.”

A "Moment" of your time

Many students struggle with distractions and difficulty with time management and following a dynamic schedule. These factors may contribute to underperforming in school or other challenges.

To address these challenges, the HFC team designed an app concept called Moment.

Moment will address this issue by incorporating artificial intelligence to build effective, personalized, dynamic schedules for students without the hassle of manual entry and micro-task management. It will use machine learning techniques in the programming language Python to create automatic, realistic schedules from various entries: PDF files, pictures taken from syllabi, voice inputs, and typed notes.

The app will create time-block schedules filled with microtasks based on the student’s priorities. Users will be able to further revise the schedule, and the app will learn from their feedback and behavior patterns. Moment will adapt to any unforeseen circumstances, such as a missed task. The app will send reminders about upcoming events.

“We were talking about online classes during the pandemic and how distractions and focus were an issue for students. This idea evolved into a lack of focus and time-management, especially for college students. Then, we brainstormed a solution that would tackle all sides of the issue,” said Kondraciuk.

“Among other things, Moment will incorporate app-blocking, habit-tracking, and AI to improve the user experience. The unique part of Moment, which is also my favorite part, is the AI. The app will reschedule your plan if you miss an agenda item and also learn your ‘algorithm’ to improve your future schedules. It's really neat. Ultimately, Moment will teach users how to plan their own effective schedules and identify what works for them,” she explained.

Creating mentally healthier students, leading to better academic performance

While performing a task, Moment will limit access to social media platforms, giving the student a “Moment” to focus. The Pomodoro Technique, a method of time management that uses 25-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks, is integrated within Moment. This allows users to take frequent breaks, increasing overall productivity.

“Moment is an AI-powered app that will do all of this legwork for the student, uniquely based on their focusing habits,” said Bagnall. “We hope that, after some time using the app regularly, the habits will become ingrained in the student and they might not even need the app as much. I believe Moment will help students understand that the fastest way to get through a bunch of tasks is to knock them out one by one with intentionally planned time for each task.”

Moment’s reward feature and habit tracker will provide real-time assessment through badges and points. Each completed task will be worth a certain amount of points and will provide the student with a sense of accomplishment. This will help create a community of students who are constantly trying to focus.

Using the app consistently will help students develop strong habits and become more focused and productive. The experience will improve students’ quality of life. Learning to manage to their time effectively can help students:

  • Prioritize tasks
  • Meet deadlines
  • Reduce stress and anxiety

These gains will lead to better academic performance and professional performance. Creating mentally healthier students will help them finish their education more efficiently, while reducing the number of people who do not complete their academic programs. Ultimately, this could help target the issue of student loan debt.

Overall, the goal is for Moment to give students a greater sense of control over their lives and change the world.

Attending the Innovation Challenge Boot Camp in June

“On behalf of AACC, I would like to congratulate the 2023 CCIC finalists,” said Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC. “Each year I am impressed and inspired by the level of talent displayed by these community college students, and I am very proud to partner with the NSF to provide a platform for these future leaders that are taking on the real-world challenges with creative, thoughtful, and transformational proposals.”

As a CCIC finalist, the HFC team will attend the Innovation Challenge Boot Camp June 12-15 at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town in Alexandria, VA. This boot camp is designed to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for the finalist teams to further develop their ideas through workshops and technical assistance focused on building innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic communication skills.

The boot camp will give the HFC team the opportunity to be coached in building communication and entrepreneurial skills relevant to supporting innovation in both the private and public sectors. The sessions will include information applicable to commercializing ideas, using technology for social applications, communicating with stakeholders, refining a pitch, and more.

The boot camp culminates in a Student Innovation Poster Session on Capitol Hill with STEM leaders and Congressional stakeholders, along with a pitch presentation to determine the first, second, and third-place winning teams.

“To grow the nation’s STEM capacity, the United States must invest more in community colleges. With the increasing demand for skilled technical workers, they occupy a significant space in preparing diverse students for today’s STEM workforce," said James L. Moore III, NSF assistant director of the Directorate for STEM 2 Education. “I extend my congratulations to this year’s finalists, and I look forward to seeing how their work can make a difference in the world by translating knowledge into action.”

Moment is not just for students

At this stage, the creators of the app built an interface using the interface design program Figma and the programming language Swift. The scheduling and time-blocking algorithm is created in the programming language Python. The developers are reviewing current AI engines that will be able to process the information and parse the schedule and other outcomes. Finally, they are searching for investors to fund operational and initial costs, such as setting up a server.

Both Kondraciuk and Bagnall said they were not sure Moment would become a finalist in the CCIC.

“Dr. Nameghi was so confident in our project. He had a feeling we would be finalists. The last thing he said after our submission was ‘Looking forward to great news.’ I was still really surprised and excited when I found out, though,” said Kondraciuk.

Added Bagnall: “I was not expecting to be a finalist. I am excited for the opportunity during the week in the Washington, D.C. area. Our team will be attending specialized workshops in the hopes of helping us further develop our idea for Moment.”

Nameghi was not surprised Moment became a finalist in the CCIC.

“2023 is the year of AI, and our idea uses this technology to help students with time-management and focus,” he said. “Additionally, our team aimed for perfection and were open to any critiques to improve the work. We have been working almost three months with a lot of progress in making an interface and a platform for our app.”

While the app is targeted toward students, anyone can benefit from using Moment.

“Even though I use a planner and track my homework on a spreadsheet, this app will still teach me how to manage my time better,” said Kondraciuk. “Sometimes I don't incorporate enough free time for myself, which can lead to burnout. Moment will teach me balance – something a lot of college students need.”

Here is the video about the Moment app.