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Winning the sySTEMic Challenge

The sySTEMic Challenge is an annual event sponsored by the GS-LSAMP/NNJ-B2B consortium and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It provides students an opportunity to use their classroom knowledge to create and innovate. This year eight teams participated in the event and PCCC won the first place in the competition. Three PCCC team members describe their experience in this story.

Jocelyne Romano Physical science

When I first entered this project, I believed so little in my capabilities. I’d never had experience in innovating, besides thinking up cool ideas I could maybe work on. So when Dr. Mayur, asked if I would be interested in participating in the sySTEMic challenge, I was a bit intimidated. I had also just recently joined the B2B (Bridges to Baccalaureate) club, and become the club president. As the B2B club president I decided to take on the challenge. To try something new, because in trying new experiences new sides of yourselves come to the surface. The mission at first was daunting; we didn’t have an established team towards the beginning of the project, and it heavily revolved around research. As the weeks went on Kelly, Judith, Edwin, and I became the team. We were all able to gel nicely due to all of us having similar backgrounds; all of our families live or have lived in remote areas where potable water is scarce. In my parent’s homeland, El Salvador most people drink their water from water bags. Therefore, creating an innovative filter system that would not only purify the water, but be able to perform real-time on-site detection became our goal. From this point we worked tirelessly alongside our amazing advisors Dr. Mayur and Professor Warrick who guided us towards our end goal. There were several zoom meetings, many nights spent staring at a screen for research, and there were always times where we had to readjust the plan. Throughout it all the team worked to support one another and create something that would be feasible. In the end we developed a filter system that contained four layers of purification consisting of moss, “F-sand”, activated charcoal, and zeolite targeting removal of microbial contaminants. From these layers water would travel from a copper pipe into the “potable” water tank designed to hold 53 gallons -enough drinkable water for a village of 100. From this point the residents had the option to test the quality of their filtered water with the help of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) biosensor. The biosensor helped confirm if bacterial contaminants had been removed by the filtration system. In the end, all of our efforts paid off on the day of the competition. We all had the pleasure of seeing many innovative ideas, and taking home “1st place.” I remember that night when they announced our team, the Panthers, as the winners. I was so in shock I didn’t even remember what we had won. However, the most rewarding prize was the bonds created between the advisors and team. I’ve made great friends and this experience has reminded me to always challenge myself, because it can take to a high you never knew existed. I’d like to thank my teammates and advisors for this wonderful journey, and the Vision newspaper for sharing our story.

Judiht Hilares Biology Major

As a freshman student, it was an honor for me to represent Passaic County Community College at this important event -sySTEMic Challenge 2021. As a part of a team, this was an incredible opportunity to apply multidisciplinary sciences and prove to myself that everything is possible when people work hard and have the correct passion. It was my first STEM challenge here, so I was so excited from the beginning, also because I knew we had good ideas. However, nothing is possible without the correct guidance and I had the best: Dr. Mayur and professor Warrick, I also had the best group, Jocelyne and Kelly who worked with me and showed that everything is possible with teamwork and unity. As a group, we all shared the same desire to succeed in science and work on projects that involved helping communities. I know that our Filtration System for Microbial Contaminants in water, and the (MFC) biosensor is only the beginning of great projects. After this grateful experience, I encourage all Panthers to get involved in meaningful projects, I’m sure that everyone has an incredible idea to share. Finally, I dedicate this award to my dear mother and father, to my dear little friend Qory who passed away during this period of realization (thank you buddy for never giving up, you inspired me), and overall to my dear Lord who knows the secrets of his creation.

Kelly J. Franco

Mechanical Engineering

Engineering can be an intimidating subject for anyone. It is one thing to learn about a topic, and it is another to apply your skill set towards an innovation. I’ll never forget the day that my physics professor, Professor Warrick, announced to the class that the PCCC’s sySTEMic Challenge was in need of a few members, and that if anyone was interested, we should send him an e-mail. While the opportunity would have been an amazing experience, I thought to myself, “I’m not good enough for this. I don’t even know anything about the Brita water filter I have at home!” I took a chance and e-mailed Professor Warrick, because the worst that would happen was that I would not be accepted into the team.

To my surprise, Professor Warrick immediately responded and gave me all of the details and information for the team’s next meeting. We only had three weeks left before the competition! We got straight to work-- I met with Jocelyne over zoom and immediately established that I would help with the mechanics and design of our potable water filter. I was afraid that I did not know enough to create such an innovation. I spent countless hours with my team, researching everything about water filters-- from do-it-yourself filters, to the most advanced and portable water filters one could ever see. I drew over 10 different filter designs, and it came out better every time. Throughout the innovation process, I would ask myself, “How can I make this better? How can I make this filter the best filter that a village in Peru has ever seen? What can I integrate into this design to make it efficient and feasible?” With the help of my team, as well as my advisors, we created the “Esper-Aqua” filter. The idea for the name came from the spanish word “esperanza,” meaning hope.

I learned that one could doubt themselves as much as they want to; to the point that they may even break. But at a certain point, one will realize that they are so involved in their work, that giving up is no longer an option. The only option you have is to be great and to do your best. Working with my team was one of the best experiences I have had at PCCC. I had the opportunity to learn so much about my diverse team, as well as myself. It was empowering to work amongst other intelligent women in STEM. We deserved to win 1st place because we worked incredibly hard for it. I am so proud of my school, my team, and I am eager to see what is in store for the future.

A special thanks to Cristiane San Miguel, Assistant Director GS-LSAMP and Thomas Van Aken, Project Director NNJ-B2B for coordinating the sySTEMic Challenge event.

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