Houston native finalist for AT&T HBCU Innovation Challenge
Elise Gentry

When Elise Gentry isn’t representing first-year students for the student government association or volunteering for a nonprofit young professionals network, she is busy collecting bragging rights as one of AT&T’s HBCU Innovation Challenge award-winning finalists.

The former Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts alum and first year Howard University marketing student participated on one of the 13 teams from eight HBCUs that competed in the challenge. Her team, “The Mecca Minds,” won third place and walked away with a prize total of $10,000

Students were responsible for creating innovative solutions that address a problem in the Black community. The focus areas include bridging the digital divide and climate change.

Gentry spoke with the Defender about her experience creating innovative solutions.

Defender: How does it feel to win the AT&T Innovation Challenge?

Gentry: As a freshman it’s been so exciting finding new opportunities. I’m a marketing major and I like learning ways to take those skills and apply them to other areas of business. AT&T created an opportunity for not just business majors but for those in the tech background to create tangible solutions.

Defender: You went to the High School for Performing and Visual Arts. What led to your decision to attend an HBCU?

Gentry: My parents met at Howard University. They had two children. My oldest sister went to Howard and so I’m kind of fulfilling our family’s tradition. Beyond that, what I loved about Kinder High School was the diversity of students and I knew I wanted to continue experiencing that in college. I played the harp at that time and even though I no longer play I took away so many transferable skills like advocating for myself and connecting with others and helping people share their stories.

Defender: What was your experience like during the Innovation Challenge?

Gentry: A few sophomores in the same honors program as me at Howard reached out to me form a team and we were able to connect with some mentors, and a professional at AT&T named Steve Neil, and he was able to walk us through the systems and key processes needed to formulate a solution. We collaborated with him every week to do research and create cool prototypes and then review feedback. I enjoyed the actual presentation day, seeing so many Black women who have such diverse experiences with tech and business.

Defender: What was the problem you were trying to solve?

Gentry: AT&T is looking at smart city solutions. We chose a sustainable track to lowering carbon emissions in the community.

Defender: What was the solution?

Gentry: Our solution was AT&T Green. It’s a two prong solution. The first was creating an app that would monitor the carbon emissions of AT&T users. We paired that app with the AT&T green phone plan that would potentially be cheaper than the other plans depending on the carbon emission that the user creates. We created a metrics for that. If you levels are low, you could receive cash back. We thought of some other perks connecting to millennials and Gen-Z and minority users. We found out that minority users tend to care more about the amount of carbon they are emitting more than other groups.

Defender: As a marketing major how were you able to incorporate your skills into the challenge?

Gentry: My sweet spot was creating the slide deck. I created the mock-up of what the app would look like — showing the capabilities for tracking and the leaderboard functionalities of our solution. I created a little animation of what the AT&T green logo would look like loading on the phone and…visual elements.

Defender: What will the prize money be used for?

Gentry: I was able to get a scholarship coming to Howard but it wasn’t enough to cover everything. It will help to fund my education. This will help secure my future at Howard.

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...