Uche in black dress with blue and pink accentsWhat is innovation?

If you ask Uche Chukwuezi, a student at Fayetteville State University, it’s “creative action that drives transformative change.” This philosophy powered her to victory in our annual AT&T HBCU Innovation Challenge.

“Just a year ago, I was headed towards a career in physical therapy,” she said. “To reflect on how I’ve successfully transitioned onto a new path and am excelling is a testament to my personal growth and adaptability.”

An Invitation to Innovate

Each year, the HBCU Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for HBCU students across the country to showcase their talents and solve real world challenges in the technology space. Participants competed for cash prizes as well as opportunities to continue developing their solutions and mentorship sessions with AT&T employees.

This year’s challenge tasked participants with leveraging self-service technologies in the retail space to elevate the customer experience. Uche’s solution was a mobile app named The Blueprint. Serving as an extension of an AT&T store and utilizing the latest tech, The Blueprint would enhance the in-store experience through tools like navigation and updated kiosk functions among other features.

The first step in developing The Blueprint involved thorough analysis. “I started by conducting a comprehensive brainstorm to lay out all my potential solutions. Then, I dove into extensive market research, covering all the aspects I needed to incorporate into my presentation.”

After hours of analysis, development, and practicing her pitch, it was time to bring The Blueprint to the judges. “My aim was to establish a connection with them,” she said, “Making them feel as though we were already well-acquainted. I took a personable and engaging approach as I guided them through my innovation journey.”

While the presentation can be the most nerve-racking part of the process for many participants, Uche didn’t feel any anxiety. Instead, her overwhelming eagerness and detailed preparation carried her through it.

Eva Mbote, Professional – Solution Architect, and one of the judges, said, “The presentations of the winning teams were striking. The participants provided so much detail – from the importance of their innovations to the financial breakdowns, and how it will make our customers’ lives easier. Uche made an effort to empathize with various personas and even visited an AT&T store to create a short commercial.”

Uche remembers the presentation vividly. “One of the judges simply uttered, ‘wow, just wow,’” she said. “It was at that very moment I realized I had crafted something of significance.”

Empowering Future Innovators

HBCU Innovation Challenge Promo graphic with student photos and "Register now. Don't miss $50k in prize money"The purpose of the HBCU Innovation Challenge is to engage and cultivate future STEM professionals. As Mbote explained, “The event enables HBCU students to unleash their creativity and think unconventionally. It supports AT&T’s culture of innovation and shapes the company’s future by emphasizing our commitment to our customers and valuing insights from students and those outside the organization.”

Uche’s experience perfectly shows this purpose in action. “This challenge empowers students to explore their boundaries and reveal abilities they may not have realized they had,” she said. “Events like this open doors to opportunities that might never have existed otherwise.”

She also learned a lot about the ways AT&T encourages diversity of thought – an essential part of shaping the future. “Their commitment to diversity extends far beyond their customer base and includes creating a sense of community among their employees,” she said.

“Everyone I interacted with was exceptionally personable and genuinely enthusiastic about contributing to each other’s success. It’s evident that there’s a strong emphasis on supporting entry-level talent.”

With an HBCU Innovation Challenge win and validation in her new career path, Uche is charging forward with “a dedication to blazing new trails, fueled by an unshakable resolve.”

If you’re a student looking for the opportunity to challenge yourself, AT&T is the place. “An event like the HBCU Innovation Challenge is an excellent opportunity for you to grow your professional relationships while showcasing your talents,” Mbote said. “I wish I had been aware of challenges like this during my college years.”

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