Student FAQs

1. What is the CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge?

Previously known as CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition, CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge is an opportunity to apply your creativity and what you have learned in your classes to improve how public services are provided to members of our society. The competition challenges students to think about how they would apply cognitive computing to improve how institutions of higher education or local governments can better serve the public. It also challenges students to think about the implications that deployment of digital technologies has on the public, such as issues of personal privacy and ethical behavior, cybersecurity and intellectual property rights, and shifts in the type of skills and knowledge required to be successful in today and tomorrow’s workforce.

2. What is IBM Watson AI?

Watson AI is a technology that processes information more like a human than a computer – by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as it goes. Understanding, Reasoning, and Learning are three capabilities that differentiate cognitive systems from traditional programmed computer systems. Watch this video ‘How IBM Watson Works‘ to learn more about Watson and its application to various industries and sectors.

3. Why should I participate in the 2019 CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge?

Reason One: To gain valuable insight into emerging technology and be at the forefront of applying cognitive computing technology to solve pressing social issues.
Reason Two: To use this opportunity for my team to win $5,000.
Reason Three: To come up with a project plan that could lead me to start a new business featuring an application for mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, etc.


4. Will there be an orientation/information session held about the Challenge?

On February 7, 2019, an information session about the CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge will be held at Baruch College in the Newman Vertical Campus (55 Lexington Ave) at Room 3-160 from 12:45 PM to 2:15 PM. The meeting is open to all CUNY students. Students unable to attend in person can watch the information session live or, over the Internet. [Link to watch the orientation via the Internet will be provided soon on this website.] A recording of the orientation will be posted for later viewing.


5. Who is eligible to compete and register in the Challenge?

All CUNY students enrolled in a degree-granting program are eligible to register in the Challenge. Note that only a registered student is eligible to compete in the Challenge.


6. How do I register in the Challenge?

Registration is open from January 25 till 11:59 PM of March 1, 2019. All CUNY students should use their official names as they appear on the Student ID Cards and should use the CUNY email address to register. One same student should not register more than once. Click here to register for the challenge.


7. Can I compete as an individual?

No. Only teams of consisting of 3-5 CUNY matriculated students are eligible to compete.

8. Who should be on a team?

Ideally, members of a team will bring a mix of skills that include business, marketing, psychology, and human behavior, communications and an understanding of technology. It is mandatory that your Team should have only the CUNY students who have registered for the Challenge.

9. How can I identify other students with whom I might form a team?

Once you register, please send a request to join us at ‘2019 CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge’ group on LinkedIn. Please use this page to connect with other participating students and form Teams.

On February 8, 2019, a Social Mixer event will be organized at the Baruch College’s Administrative Building at 135 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010, Room. 301, from6:00 PM  to 8:00 PM. All the students who have registered for the competition can meet each other, talk about possible project ideas, share each others’ contacts and progress a conversation to form a team. After you form a Team, one of you should be assigned as a Team Leader.

10. How do I select a project?

Once you have organized into a team the next step is to select a project to work on. You have the freedom to identify a project that focuses on the Higher Education or NYC Government domain or sector. Be creative, pick a project you are interested in exploring.


11. Will the teams have access to the IBM Watson AI technology?

IBM provides free-access to IBM Watson AI and Watson Cloud Services to all students enrolled in the competition. Members of the IBM Watson Team will provide workshops on Watson and what it is capable of doing as well showing how to build a working model for use in the project you have selected. Every team is required to develop a business case analysis for their proposed project that includes conceptual design, business plan and rationale for who would adopt the application they propose. Click here for resources on Watson AI technology and developing business case analysis.


12. Who owns the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the ideas our team develops?

The IP rights to ideas developed as part of the competition are owned by the students who created them. IBM does not own any IP rights created by the CUNY students during the competition. IBM owns the IP rights to IBM Watson AI and Watson Cloud Services. If the students/CUNY wish to commercialize their IP rights, the students/CUNY are free to pursue without IBM’s involvement. However, if students plan to use IBM Watson AI or Watson Cloud Services in commercializing their IP they will have to licensee IBM Watson AI and Watson Cloud Services from IBM. If students select a project provided by an NYC Government agency they agree to share their idea they develop during the competition by allowing the agency to adopt the idea and use it to improve its operations.

13. What is a Business Case Analysis?

A concise 3-page document that clearly explains what needs your team seeks to meet, how you have and plan to meet that need, and what you could achieve with additional resources. For your reference, see Business Case Analysis submitted by the Winning Teams of 2014 and 2017 and the Winning Teams of 2018.


14. What are the major elements of the required Business Case Analysis?

In preparing your Business Case Analysis, be sure to address the following as best you can at this point in the competition:

  1. Case Criteria: Discuss the reason your team selected the sector (higher education or government) and the project to work on and the associated challenges. Why is it important to solve this problem? Who are the users of the application developed during your project?
  2. Integration of IBM Watson Technology: Discuss how using Watson cognitive technology and Bluemix services represent an Innovative application of Watson to solve a problem. Why is Watson’s cognitive computing capability essential to solving this problem?
  3. Plausibility: Cognitive computing technology is changing so rapidly that its ability to solve a problem will expand in the near future. Therefore think creatively about the technology you will be utilizing – you do not have to be bound by what is possible today – consider what might be possible tomorrow.
  4. Impact: What part of Higher Education or NYC Government (potential client) would be interested in your application? How will your application impact the potential client’s ability to serve its public?
    Think of the ‘three-page Business Case Analysis as a pitch to potential investors’ you want to convince to invest in the development of your application, not as a recap and explanation of your project.

15. How does my team get a mentor?

Once a team is formed and a project selected, the team completes a Milestone # 1 Form and submits the form via email to A mentor is then suggested based on the mentors’ strengths and interests and the teams’ project. The mentor and team meet (in-person, by email or telephone) to ensure this pairing is workable. However, Teams are welcome to bring in their own mentor as well. To learn more about what the guidelines are for mentors, visit Mentor FAQs.

16. Will there be an opportunity to get feedback on preliminary project ideas?

Teams prepare a preliminary Milestone #1 Form describing their project and proposed solution in brief by March 1, 2019. Then on Saturday, March 9, teams present a 5-minute pitch about their project to a panel of reviewers who provide feedback on project, the team’s approach and the quality of the presentation itself.

17. What workshop will be available for students to participate in?

A number of workshops are being planned to provide students with a greater understanding of the design process in developing new applications. Among the workshops to be offered are:

Led by Stan Altman, Professor Emeritus, Baruch College
9:30 AM to 12:30 noon; Room. 301, Baruch Administrative Building, 135 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

Led by Roger Osorio, IBM  Corporation
9:30 AM to 12:30 noon; Room. 301, Baruch Administrative Building, 135 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

Led by Don Waisanen, AssociateProfessor, Baruch College
9:30 AM to 12:30 noon; Room. 301, Baruch Administrative Building, 135 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

Saturday, 9th MARCH 2019- BOOT CAMP DAY 2
10:30 AM to 12:30 PM – Led by Armen Pischdotchian, IBM Corporation
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, Pier 86, 12th Avenue at W 46th St, New York, NY 10036.

Led by Helen Lam, IBM Corporation
10:00 AM to 12:30 noon; Room. 301, Baruch Administrative Building, 135 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

18. What do the Teams have to submit?

The competing Teams should deliver 4 submissions as below:

1st MARCH 2019 – MILESTONE #1 due by 11:59 PM
All the teams should submit Milestone # 1 Form in pdf format by email to (Download Milestone # 1 Form) Each team should submit only one form, clearly listing the below details:
1. official full names of the Team Leader and the rest of the Team Members
2. a 250-word brief description of Social Problem you would like to address
3. a 250-word brief description of the Solution you would like to propose.
Each Team should have a minimum of 3 or a maximum of 5 members. All Teams should ensure that each member has registered for the Challenge. If your Team includes members who are not registered, they will be barred from participation. Teams failing to meet Milestone # 1 deadline will no longer remain part of the Challenge.

9th MARCH 2019 – MILESTONE #2
2:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Teams present a Five-Minute Pitch to a panel of reviewers at the Education Center, Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum (Pier 86, 12th Avenue at W 46th St, New York, NY 10036).
Teams failing to present the pitch are considered officially out of the competition thereafter.

Friday, 12th APRIL 2019 – MILESTONE #3 due by 6 PM
Teams should submit a 3-page Business Case Analysis and 1-minute Video by email to
Teams failing to meet Milestone #3 deadline will no longer remain part of the Challenge. (For reference, take a look at submissions from the Winning Teams of 2014 and 2017 and the Winning Teams of 2018.)

Tuesday, 30th APRIL 2019 –‘5-Minute Final Presentation’ due by 11:59 PM
Ten Finalist Teams submit a Powerpoint Slide for their ‘5-Minute Final Presentation'(to be presented on May 3rd, 2019) by email to (For reference, take a look at the Final Presentations from the 2018 Challenge Finalists).

19. Can I earn Course Credits from my participation?

Baruch students participating in this Challenge can earn 3 credits only by registering for PAF 4199 (undergraduate course) or PAF 9199 (graduate course) offered by the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College. Students enrolled at other CUNY colleges and programs must use the e-permit system to register for either of PAF 4199 and PAF 9199. Course requires additional reading, and quizzes in addition to completion of the team project.

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