Natural Sciences Team Takes First Place in National NSF and AACC Community College Innovation Challenge

Article by: Melinda Eddleman

The competition was all about innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. Del Mar College’s (DMC) team was among 10 finalists selected from across the country to move to the final round and compete this month as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) third annual Community College Innovation Challenge. 

The annual competition cultivates team innovation using students’ knowledge and skills in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas to develop solutions to complex, real-world problems. 

Thursday night, June 16, during a reception on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Del Mar’s team––including Danial Nasr Azadani, Reavelyn Pray and John Ramirez––was named the first-place winner for their product, EnteroSword, which is a spray that slows the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The three students are biotechnology majors with the College’s Natural Sciences Department, and each team member received $1,500 as the top winners. 

“Becoming the champion of the 2017 NSF Innovation Challenge is amazing because over 100 teams nationwide competed initially,” says Dr. John “Rob” Hatherill, DMC professor of biology and faculty mentor of the winning team. “The 10 finalist teams were all very competitive, but I believe the result of this challenge can be directly related tour department’s discovery-based undergraduate research program.”

Del Mar’s team made the final round for their proposal to use viruses to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Projects fell into one of three categories: energy and environment, maker-to-manufacturer and security technologies. The student teams worked with a mentor faculty member and an industry partner to foster entrepreneurial and professional skills. Del Mar’s team project was in the maker-to-manufacturer category and is titled “Slowing Antibiotic Resistance with EnteroSword.” The project focused on bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics treatment methods with the biotechnology team advocating the use of tailor-made viruses that target harmful bacteria without endangering humans.

Del Mar College was among the first community colleges accepted into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters (SEA PHAGES) program with students conducting campus biotechnology laboratory work as part of this pioneering research project for undergraduate students.

The DMC team has been involved with the Natural Sciences Department’s Phage Hunters program, which consists of a one-year research-mentoring course that develops concepts and techniques from multiple disciplines across biology, such as molecular biology, electron microscopy, microbiology and finally the emerging field of bioinformatics.

The SEA PHAGES program offers students authentic research, which is embedded into coursework. On a national basis, very few four-year schools and even fewer two-year schools offer such a program. 

The SEA PHAGES program allows students to contribute to a real scientific database. Students present real scientific data and publish abstracts and papers just as graduate students do at top tier universities. The program allows students to experience the real culture of discovery-based research and the actual collaborative nature of science.

Read about the challenge and other college’s projects through AACC’s online publication, Community College Daily, at www.ccdaily.com/2017/06/pitching-passion-projects/.

IN THE PHOTO: Del Mar College wins first place in the NSF and AACC third annual Community College Innovation Challenge. DMC team members pose with their plaque, along with competition judges, including Dr. James N. Hunt, NSF Program Officer (left); Dr. Julianne Grose, External Advisor from Brigham Young University; and Dr. Amanda Simcox, NSF Program Officer. DMC representatives include faculty mentor Dr. Rob Hatherill, DMC professor of biology (center) and biotechnology majors Reavelyn Pray, John Ramirez and Danial Nasr Azadani.  

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