EMCC students take top honors at annual Cisco Innovation Challenge

Amanda Gonzales
Amanda Gonzales, 1st place winner of the Cisco Innovation Challenge
December 04, 2018

Estrella Mountain Community College students Amanda Gonzales and Ronnie Ruiz took first and second place at the Cisco Innovation Challenge Nov. 15 at Arizona State University.

The Challenge, hosted by ASU in collaboration with Cisco, is for students interested in starting or growing their own businesses. Seven Maricopa Community Colleges students participated in the challenge.

Gonzales won $5,000 for her Facing Me app, and Ruiz took home $3,000 for his business, Kustom Tyres and Supplies (KT&S). The company, which converts black-wall tires into custom white or colored sidewalls, also won Ruiz a check for $20,000 earlier this year at the “Big Pitch Challenge” hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI) at Gateway Community College.

Gonzales’ Facing Me app will use facial recognition software in conjunction with responses to questions about the user’s current and past moods, she said. The application will then recommend mental wellness practices, such as breathing exercises, empowerment videos and help from counselors or therapists, to alleviate anxiety and stress.

“Most students find it hard to reach out in person for help, and for those that do, the resources are scarce,” she said. “My application will give individuals the opportunity to receive help from the comfort of their own space.”

The psychology student started attending EMCC in 2015, 11 years after graduating from high school.

“As a 32-year-old return student, I feel as though my life experience has allowed me to fully embrace and appreciate my college experience,” Gonzales said.

She will graduate in the spring of 2019 with an associate of arts in general studies and an associate of arts in psychology. She will then transfer to ASU West to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.

“She’s an awesome student,” said Erika Wager, Estrella Mountain Community College psychology professor.

Wager, who is an adviser on the school’s Psychology Club, first got to know Gonzales when she became the president of the club last year.

“She helped reinvigorate the club,” Wager said.

That same year, Gonzales also served as the president of the Psi-Beta Club, which promotes early interest in psychology and enables psychology students to take an active role in exploring all opportunities the field offers.

“She’s definitely a natural leader,” Wager said.

The Facing Me app isn’t currently available, but Gonzales hopes to have a prototype in six months, she said.

“I plan to have Facing Me available as a free download with in-app purchases within 18 months,” she said. “My initial target market for Facing Me is college students.”

Gonzales said she plans on attending upcoming pitch events, including the CEI Big Pitch event in the spring, to gain more capital to get her app up and running.

“To see the overall stress levels of students, and my own stress levels, I just really want to keep this momentum going,” she said. “I hope to help a generation build strong resiliency skills by establishing a firm foundation of emotional intelligence through Facing Me.”