Berkeley Students’ Data-Driven Project Wins Big Ideas Grand Prize

A team of UC Berkeley students and graduates won a $10,000 grand prize in the Big Ideas contest for their data-driven project, Blackbook University.

Blackbook University co-founders (from left) Nahom Solomon, Nicholas Brathwaite, Chase Ali-Watkins, and Ibrahim Balde.

September 24, 2021

A team of UC Berkeley students and graduates won a $10,000 grand prize in a University of California systemwide competition this week for their data-driven project, Blackbook University.

Blackbook is a platform that aims to reduce racial inequities in education and employment for Black students by helping them connect with peers, enrich their educational experience and bolster their professional access. It was chosen over 353 other Big Ideas contest projects.

“We are grappling with huge social justice issues in our society,” said Anthony Suen, co-curricular programs lead for Berkeley’s Data Science Undergraduate Studies program. “In higher education, we can definitely do more to support our African-American students. Blackbook University is one of the most exciting grassroots efforts out there using data science to help solve this systemic inequality.”

Blackbook’s six-member team includes Berkeley students and graduates Ibrahim Baldé, Chase Ali-Watkins, Nicholas Brathwaite, Farhiya Ali, Imran Sekalala, and Nahom Solomon. 

Big Ideas is an annual competition, where University of California students propose transformative solutions to real-world problems. The winning teams receive training, recognition, and funding. It is sponsored by the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation.

The contest named Blackbook a finalist in May, an honor that came with $5,000 to support their work. Jennifer Chayes, associate provost of Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, also gave the team a CDSS Discovery Award of $10,000.

The project embodies “the ways data science can make positive and profound changes in society, and we are delighted to give them additional support,” Chayes said at the time

Blackbook is working with Berkeley to provide its services to the campus. CDSS will continue to support the start-up entity by providing advice and technical support.