Solve for Tomorrow Alumni Donovan Carter: ”There’s no such thing as a bad idea.”
For this year’s ‘Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Alumni: Where Are They Now?’ series, we’re catching up with students who have competed in our national STEM competition to discover more about life after Solve. We’re learning how Solve for Tomorrow impacted the students and the trajectory of their higher education and career path, as well as the overall importance of STEM education.
|Today:||Enrolled in Norfolk State University, majoring in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, and accepted into the school’s prestigious DNIMAS honors program. In his spare time Donovan is working on an updated version of Great Bridge High School’s AcceleRoute school bus scheduling system, which was named a 2021-2022 Solve for Tomorrow National Winner.|
|Plans for Tomorrow:||“I want to be able to give back to my community and help the larger world, to see if I can find another problem that can be solved by applying the love of Electrical Engineering that Solve for Tomorrow awakened in me.”|
|Ties to Samsung Solve for Tomorrow:||As schools struggled in Fall 2021 to return to in-classroom learning following the “Lost Year” of the COVID pandemic, they faced a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers that disrupted their transportation systems. That issue hit hard at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, VA, and to address it, Career & Technology Education teacher Paula Labbe’s class devised a mapping app/data card reader solution that provided customized route instructions to each driver based on which students were being transported on their run. The improved efficiency and increased on-time performance boosted ridership and delivered benefits for the broader community, gaining Great Bridge not only Solve for Tomorrow National Winner honors in 2021-2022, but also recognition as the Community Choice Winner for the year.|
What was your path from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition winner to where you are today?
Solve for Tomorrow awakened my love for Electrical Engineering; it really solidified what I wanted to do with my life. Spurred by our team’s work on AcceleRoute, I decided to major in Electrical Engineering in college, and was honored to be accepted by Norfolk State University into its prestigious Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences (DNIMAS) program. For me, DIMAS really is a continuation of the path I started down by helping develop AcceleRoute. Norfolk State created DNIMAS to reduce the shortage of scientists by producing highly trained graduates capable of earning Ph.D.s and medical degrees – the same way Solve for Tomorrow aims to excite young students with the possibilities and potential of STEM.
What was the origin of the AcceleRoute project?
We created AcceleRoute to fix a very real problem for our school – and for the larger Chesapeake community. The COVID pandemic had really impacted school transportation in our area – by causing a shortage of school bus drivers. When we returned to school in the fall of 2021, the driver shortage meant there just weren’t enough buses rolling to get all our students to school on time. Drivers who did report to work had to cover more and longer routes than before, substitute drivers didn’t know the routes well, and on certain days, some routes just weren’t covered. All of which meant students were arriving late, missing a lot of early classes, having problems getting home or to work if they had after school jobs. It was just a mess. It got so bad, I even considered walking to school.
To some people, that might sound like a minor inconvenience, but it really impacted the community as a whole. When school transportation isn’t working as expected, parents can be delayed getting to their own jobs, or have to make alternate transportation or childcare arrangements for their kids. It can mean more cars on the road if parents have to drive, while the bus drivers who do report for duty are working long hours under increased pressure. Late school arrivals can even mean poorer nutrition for children who count on having breakfast at school.
When our teacher Paula Labbe asked us to decide on a community problem we could address with STEM, bus transportation was right there. In fact, our research showed that Great Bridge schools weren’t alone: nationwide at that time 65% of schools reported that bus driver shortages were their #1 problem.
But if the bus driver shortage was right in front of us – so was a path to a solution. My father works for FedEX – and I knew that delivery companies use mapping application tools to help drivers plot out efficient routes. That was the seed of our AcceleRoute idea – to apply our STEM skills to develop a personalized, efficient, and greener route for each driver based on the home locations of the students they are transporting on each run. We gave every student a card with their address programmed on it and as they boarded the bus, they would swipe the card through a card reader linked to an app that then determined the most efficient route to transport all the students between home and school and back again, reducing travel time and increasing each driver’s effectiveness.
How did the community respond?
That was impressive. Our fellow students, our families and friends, the whole community, were incredibly supportive, from friends who didn’t have to worry about late busses messing up schedules, to parents who didn’t have to scramble to give kids lifts after school, to the mayor who reached out to personally congratulate us. AcceleRoute got a ton of local media coverage, and with classmates campaigning for us, we even won that year’s Solve for Tomorrow Community Choice Award, which added to our prize package from Samsung.
Extending that positive response, when Great Bridge used the prize package to build a state-of-the-art STEM Collaboration Lab, interest in the school’s STEM courses jumped, and fellow students were helping to make the lab a reality, painting walls and helping move stuff in. It’s also great to feel that our team was making a start on giving back to the school and community by enabling that facility. The Collaboration Lab is now being used by all teachers at the school to give students the opportunity to use innovative technology and collaboration skills to prepare them for the future.
What’s the most important thing you learned or took away from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow?
That our working together could bring the whole school together, and even bring our community together. It showed us all that even as high school students, you could have a positive impact, that if there’s a problem in the community, you have the power to fix it.
What’s your advice to STEM students and teachers who might consider entering Solve for Tomorrow next year?
My advice is “Just go for it!” It’s important for students to realize that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. If you focus and work hard, you can make your solution a valid solution that can fix the problem. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. And don’t think you have to find some big global problem to address – it can be as small as a neighborhood issue. That’s the kind of thing I want to do more of, to get back to, and give back to, my community by continuing to identify and help solve issues using STEM.