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Baruch College Hosts Finals of CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition

Team from Baruch College and New York City College of Technology finish in first-place, proposing IBM Watson artificial intelligence for crowdsourced New York City flood maps

Augustus Kaptko, Nathaniel Zinda, and Sett Hein finished in first place in the 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition and received $5,000.

From left to right: Augustus Kaptko, Nathaniel Zinda, and Sett Hein received $5,000 for winning the 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition.

New York, NY – May 16, 2018 – In February 2018, 400 City University of New York (CUNY) students from 20 CUNY campuses registered to participate in the third CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition. Two months later, 36 teams consisting of a total of 177 students from 17 CUNY campuses completed the semester-long competition that included information sessions, workshops, and a two-day boot camp. From the completed projects, ten were selected and invited to the final round held on May 11, 2018 at Baruch College. 

Competition teams comprised of three to five students who submitted a three-page case statement and one-minute video of their project aimed at solving a specific problem of urban life and to move New York City towards the principles laid out in Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC plan: growth, equity, sustainability, and resilience. Out of the 36 teams, a total of 42 finalists from eight CUNY schools were selected to participate in the last round of the event.

Baruch College accounted for 64 percent of the finalists. Half of this year’s finalists are majoring in computer and information sciences, while almost 10 percent are studying public affairs/public administration which represents the first time this major surpassed finance or accounting.  

“This year’s competition demonstrated the interest, creativity and energy CUNY students bring to identifying and proposing solutions to a pressing social issue,” said Stan Altman, Ph.D., professor at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who is the lead organizer of the program. “All of the winning teams worked on projects with high social impact, and all CUNY students demonstrated once again that CUNY is New York City’s University.”

Baruch College’s 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. For the first time, the Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology Officer, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Health and the NYC Administration for Children's Services joined the competition.

Competition Overview

The CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition challenged students to think about the implications that deployment of digital technologies would have on the public, such as issues of personal privacy and ethical behavior, cyber security and intellectual property rights, and shifts in the type of skills and knowledge required to be successful in today's and tomorrow’s workforce.

During the final event, each team made a five-minute PowerPoint Presentation to a panel of judges about their project. The judges for the competition were: Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, former Deputy Mayor for health and human services for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014 to 2015; Fernando Ferrer, CUNY Trustee; Wendy Garcia, Chief Diversity Officer of the New York City Comptroller’s Office; Doris Gonzalez, Director of Corporate Citizenship for IBM; and Steve Savas, former Presidential Professor at Baruch College. Additionally, last year’s CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition winning team from Brooklyn College served as 2018 judges.

2018 Winning Teams

The 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition first-place team comprised Nathaniel Zinda and Sett Hein from Baruch College, and Augustus Kaptko from New York City College of Technology. The winning team worked on a project called “Providing Real-Time Flood Data to Improve Climate Change Resiliency Efforts” and received $5,000.

This project proposed to leverage IBM Watson capabilities to increase the City’s ability to identify areas at risk of flood as climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms. Their flood mapping software would be able to extract data from unstructured Twitter posts during a disaster – or intense storm – and use that data to construct a crowdsourced map, in real-time, of where residents experience flooding throughout the city.

Watch full video presentation of first place team's project: 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition Winning Team Discussing Urban Flooding Analytics

The second place team also featured two Baruch College students—Carlos Bibiloni and Christian Collazo— who worked with Sohail Anwar from New York City College of Technology. These students obtained $3,000 for coming in second.

Their project called “Reducing Recidivism” focused on how technology can help inmates prepare plans for transitioning back into society months before being released from prison. Their proposed app, which they dubbed “Release on Recognizance,” would use services like Watson Assistant, Speech to Text, and Discovery, to provide a conversational interface where information can be requested about rehabilitation. It would be personalized via integration with existing prison systems. This solution aims to support prisoners by giving them step by step paths towards true rehabilitation.

The recipients of $2,000 for finishing in third place were Egor Semeniak (Macaulay Honors College), Anthony Astarita (Macaulay Honors College), Yuri Yurchenko (College of Staten Island), and Vincent Vitiello (College of Staten Island). Their project aimed to increase the number of New Yorkers that complete the 2020 Census to provide a more accurate count of the number of people residing in New York City, resulting in greater representation in Congress and increased federal funding.

The business case title of their project was Synthia: The SMS Census Assistant. With this AI-powered solution, citizens would receive a phone number on their Census form that they can use to text with Synthia. The chat bot solution would speak in any language, answer any questions an individual may have, and securely and conveniently record and send their information to the Census Bureau. 

About IBM Watson

IBM Watson represents a new era in computing called cognitive computing, where systems understand the world in a way more similar to humans: through senses, learning, and experience. Watson continuously learns from previous interactions, gaining in value and knowledge over time. With the help of Watson, organizations are harnessing the power of cognitive computing to transform industries, help professionals do their jobs better, and solve important challenges.

Media Contacts:

Suzanne Bronski, (646) 660-6093,

Ari Fishkind, 914-499-6420,

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