Two teams of CUNY students showcased their hi-tech solutions for increasing participation in the 2020 U.S. Census to New York City officials looking for ways to ensure that all New Yorkers are counted.  The Census determines the number of the city’s representatives in Congress and the amount of federal funding the city receives.

The CUNY teams recently competed at Baruch College in the annual CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition, which challenges students to think about how they would apply cognitive computing to improving how institutions of higher education and local governments  serve the public.  The city officials were with the Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

“The CUNY-IBM Watson competition affords students a unique opportunity to apply what they have learned in class to solving challenging public policy issues,” said CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz.  “The creative solutions that our students proposed to city officials are a reflection of the University’s commitment to educating the next generation of socially-engaged and forward-thinking New Yorkers.”

One of the teams that presented was the third-place winner of the 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson competition and included Vincent Vitiello, Egor Semeniak, Anthony Astarita—all three are enrolled in the Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island—and Yuri Yurchenko, who attends the College of Staten Island.

“This was a great opportunity for city officials to see what students from The City University of New York can do,” said Stan Altman, professor at the Baruch College Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who is the lead organizer of the competition. “Like all the teams involved in this competition, this team was able to bring its expertise and knowledge to propose an approach to solving a problem that affects all of New York City, demonstrating, once again, that CUNY is New York City’s University.”

Their project proposed using Watson’s artificial intelligence capabilities to create a chat bot function they called Synthia: The SMS Census Assistant, which could speak multiple languages and answer any question an individual might have with respect to completing the census questionnaire.

Other winning teams in the 2018 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition sought to work on additional issues facing the city, including climate change and lowering recidivism rates. The competition’s first-place winner sought 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, while the second-place team proposed using technology to help inmates prepare for returning to society months before being released from prison.

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. 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, 177 students from 17 campuses competed.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.