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Del Mar Team Eying Top Prize as Finalist of NSF/AACC Community College Innovation Challenge

Article by: Melinda Eddleman

The competition is all about innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, and Del Mar College’s (DMC) team is among the 10 finalists selected from across the country to move to the final round. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) announced the colleges and team projects that will continue work as they compete for the top prize during the third annual Community College Innovation Challenge. The 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. 

“Selection of Del Mar’s team is a direct result of our students’ tireless dedication and access to a discovery-based research program that Dr. Daisy Zhang and I have implemented,” says Dr. John “Rob” Hatherill, professor of biology. “Wow! The team will now travel to Washington, D.C., to present their novel project to members of the U.S. Congress.”

Del Mar’s team was selected for their proposal to use viruses to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The team includes Danial Nasr, Ray Pray and John Ramirez, who are all biotechnology majors in the Natural Sciences Department.

The team will travel to Arlington, Va., to participate during an intensive Innovation Boot Camp June 12-15, which will immerse students in the critical thinking, skills and tools needed to transform innovative ideas into entrepreneurial enterprises. Judging includes two events––a reception on Capitol Hill where teams will give a very short presentation and final presentations before a panel. Students on the top team will each receive $1,500 while the second-place team members will receive $1,200 each. 

Projects fall 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 falls in the maker-to-manufacturer category and is titled “Slowing Antibiotic Resistance with EnteroSword.” The project focuses 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 competing against nine other community colleges in June 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.

About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.