Nittany AI Challenge offers $100,000 in funding to innovators

Penn State EdTech Network
Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students, faculty and staff are invited to compete for $100,000 in funding during the Nittany AI Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by the Penn State EdTech Network, will give participating teams the opportunity to explore artificial intelligence in higher education to improve the student experience at Penn State, solve real-world problems at the University, and generate startup ideas.

Brad Zdenek, innovation strategist for the Penn State EdTech Network, said the Nittany AI Challenge gives participants a chance to drive digital innovation and transform education at Penn State.

“For faculty and staff, this means addressing everyday challenges — while trying to provide the best possible experience for our students,” Zdenek said. “For both graduate and undergraduate students, the challenge provides opportunities to apply knowledge in practical ways — while receiving mentorship from individuals in leading edtech and AI companies. The ultimate goals are to test ways to improve the student experience at Penn State, instigate new research, spawn new business ideas, and open doors to jobs and internships for students.”

Teams participating in the challenge can submit ideas for consideration by Jan. 29. A panel will then choose 10 teams to receive $2,500 and create a prototype. From the prototypes submitted, a panel will select five projects to receive an additional $5,000 for teams to create a minimum viable product. Finalists will receive additional funding from a $50,000 pool.

  • Jan. 29 — participant idea submissions due
  • January/February — training and workshops
  • March 27 — participant prototypes due
  • July 31 — participant MVPs due

Manda Yang, graduate student in the Penn State College of Engineering, competed last year in the Nittany Watson Challenge. Her team built a minimum viable product to evaluate possible transfer credits from courses taken at other institutions.

“It was a great opportunity to improve my problem-solving and coding skills by working on a real-world project,” Yang said. “I believe artificial intelligence is an important technology and will be applied in many fields in the future. Even for students with no experience in AI or programming, this challenge is a great opportunity to learn.”

The challenge also can serve as a resume-builder, giving students the opportunity to work with companies outside of Penn State.

Scott Hurrey, code poet/senior software engineer at Blackboard, said their mission is to collaborate with the education community to help both students and institutions succeed.

“The students who participate in these challenges are the same students who face these problems every day,” Hurrey said. “Who better to identify and solve them? Not only will they propose innovative solutions, they will also dedicate months to building those solutions with support from industry leaders like Blackboard, Amazon and Penn State.”

For additional information about how to participate, visit the Nittany AI Challenge online.