Westchester HS Alum Wins Top Prize For Creating Brain Computer Interface

Since taking his academic talents from Westchester to the University of Buffalo, a recent high school graduate is making a name for himself as an up-and-comer in the tech field.

William Phillips

William Phillips

Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Schools

William Phillips, a 2017 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, recently took top honors in his category as a Computer Science and Engineering student at the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) Research Poster Symposium.

During a near nine-week boot camp, Phillips - an incoming sophomore and computer science major at the University of Buffalo - completed an extensive research program under the tutelage of SUNY Buffalo professor Kris Schindler and graduate student Dominique Hickson.

Phillips was matched with his two mentors to conduct research for 25 hours each week during the duration of the program. During that time, he built a Brain Computer Interface, a device that allows for computers to be controlled by brain waves, analyze brainwave activity and develop a prototype keyboard application.

The goal, Phillips said, was to improve the communication abilities for people suffering from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He noted that this application can be used with a biosensing headset and allows its user to select buttons and type messages with a blink of the eyes.

Phillips competed against 24 other students, securing his first-place title in his department. He was also one of six students to be awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the Annual CSTEP Conference, which will be held during the spring semester. At that conference, Phillips will be competing against more than 700 undergraduate researchers from 55 colleges across the state.

Officials said that the CSTEP is a grant-funded program sponsored by the New York State Department of Education to support talented underrepresented students pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), licensed professions and health-related professions.

Phillips wasn’t shy about crediting both his hometown Mount Vernon and Westchester for helping stroke his passion for technology and education.

“I’ve always loved helping people and I’ve always had an interest in technology, so discovering a way to combine the two has been a driving force behind my undergraduate pursuits,” he said. “This passion began while I was in high school; I had led a group of eight Mount Vernon High School students in the 2nd Annual Westchester Mobile Application Development Competition where we won third place for our mobile application, ‘One Touch.’

“There were more than 250 students from local public and private high schools and universities that participated in the competition, so being able to secure third place was a rewarding accomplishment and instilled a greater sense of confidence in me.”

Phillips added that, “the CSTEP Summer Research Program was the best way for me to maximize the education and skills I developed throughout high school and during my first year of college. I accomplished more than I truly expected of myself and I commend the faculty at SUNY Buffalo for leading such a valuable program for its students.”

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