Bryant University Prompt-A-Thon competition
At the first Bryant University Prompt-A-Thon, part of the University's Research and Engagement Day, students learned how to use artificial intelligence to augment their creative and critical thinking.
Students build a better Bryant with AI at first annual Prompt-A-Thon
Apr 30, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

Brynn Hennessey ’25 is up against the clock. A competitor in Bryant University’s first annual Prompt-a-Thon, she’s been given only one hour to imagine and build out a big idea that solves a vexing campus challenge. “We’re looking for the next great improvement for Bryant,” Vice President and Chief Information Officer Chuck LoCurto informs the participants.

Fortunately, she, and the other students, have an ace in the hole. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence as part of the competition, they’ll accomplish more than they could’ve imagined.

Held as part of Bryant’s annual Research and Engagement Day, a day-long symposium that showcases the scholarship and creativity of the Bryant University community, the Prompt-A-Thon is one facet of a Bryant-wide initiative to responsibly embrace AI, from academics to logistics.

“Artificial intelligence is going to revolutionize every field of endeavor, and we want our students to be ahead of the curve,” states Bryant’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer Rupendra Paliwal, Ph.D. “It is important that they not only understand how it works but are also able to leverage it to its full potential and hopefully find some novel applications.”

After a brief introduction to Microsoft’s Co-Pilot, a generative AI tool, the students are let loose. “You are the brain,” LoCurto reminds them as they prepare to get started. “The AI is just the assistant.”

A student presents "Finance Buddy" at the Bryant University Prompt-A-Thon
Bryant students presented ideas ranging from “StudyFlow,” a tool for booking study rooms on short notice, to “Finance Buddy,” a budgeting app that aid students with managing, and predicting, their spending at the university's first Prompt-A-Thon 

Over the course of the next hour, the students use Co-Pilot to generate ideas, research background information, and create images for their presentations.

“This is about using what you have to find new ways to make a difference,” says Tyler Griffin ’26, vice president of Bryant’s chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and president of the Bryant Ventures start-up generator, both of which helped to organize the event. “AI is going to give students the tools to do more than they ever could before.”

When their creation period is up, the competitors present their ideas to judges selected from across the university community, who score the projects on everything from the potential impact of their proposal on campus life to their incorporation of AI.

The competition also invites the students to work on issues that are personal to them. Henessey is a member of several Bryant student organizations, including Hillel, TEDxBryantU, CEO, the Marketing Association, and the Bryant Ways and Means Committee. The groups aren’t just a fun way to pass the time, she says; they help Bryant students hone their skills, develop confidence, and make invaluable connections.

But sometimes, she suggests, it can be difficult to find the ideal match from Bryant’s more than 100 student-led clubs and organizations, especially when you’re new to the university.

Brooke Hennessey '2024 at the Bryant University Prompt-A-Thon
ClubMatchAI, the Prompt-A-Thon-winning idea created by Brynn Hennessey '25 matches Bryant students with clubs that will help them learn, grow, make lifelong connections, and have fun. 

Her competition-winning solution: Club Match AI, an app that asks students about their academic path, hobbies, interests, career plans, and schedule, and helps them find clubs that are a perfect fit. “I’ve had a version of this this idea in the back of my head for a while now,” Hennessey says, “so I’m really excited that I can get it out there.”

Using Co-Pilot to develop her idea, she says, helped bring home how useful it is. “I've never really used AI before, and I’ve actually viewed it in more of a negative light, but this is kind of a turning point,” she reflects. “Being able to use this as a tool in a way that helps people — it really opened my eyes.”

For LoCurto, this was the true value of the event. “Our students came up with some incredible ideas in just an hour,” he notes, and suggests that several of the more promising apps could be developed. “But this is really all about the process. It’s about familiarizing them with the tools and learning how to use them creatively and responsibly.”

Jackson Taylor ’26, the creator of StudyFlow, a tool for booking study rooms on short notice, discovered a fascination with artificial intelligence in Professor of Finance Leila Zbib, Ph.D.’s Fintech course and jumped at the chance to be part of the Prompt-A-Thon. “This is about gaining experience,” he says. “If I’m not ahead of this, I’m going to be behind.”

His next adventure in artificial intelligence? Helping to test AskTupper, a student-trained, AI-powered chatbot with software developed in collaboration with Alliant Digital’s Chris Stephenson. The chatbot, now in beta, will assist the campus community by providing answers to questions based on publicly available information from Bryant’s websites.

“Artificial intelligence is something that so many people are afraid of,” notes Taylor, who has already developed his own chatbot to help him prepare for job interviews. “But I’m not one of them because I’m learning how it works, and how I can work with it.”

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