Student Engineers Take Award-Winning Tech Innovations to Capitol Hill
“It’s exciting and surprising that just from our small school project, we got to meet congresswomen and congressmen and senators,” said Holly Grove Middle School student Buysimi A., as he met his home state’s senior senator, Richard Burr (R-NC), on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Buysimi and two of his Samsung Solve for Tomorrow teammates were in Washington, D.C. to promote education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as one of the three Grand Prize-winning school teams in the national STEM contest, which challenges public school students in grades 6 through 12 to solve a problem in their community using STEM.
“And we brought $110,000 in technology back to our school,” Buysimi said. “A lot of surprising things have happened!” Each winning team won $100,000 in Samsung technology and school supplies for their school and Holly Grove Middle School was awarded an extra $10,000 in Samsung technology for winning the contest’s community choice award.
The sixth graders from Holly Springs, NC designed a smart school bus stop sign, which alerts drivers before a school bus arrives and reduces the number of pedestrian accidents. Their win was announced on April 2 on April 2. One week later, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced legislation that could put the Holly Grove team’s stop sign on the map.
So on May 1, as all three Solve for Tomorrow champion teams went to Congress to meet their representatives in the House and Senate and show them their STEM project prototypes, the 12-year-old North Carolina student scientists also sat down with the Indiana congresswoman to discuss her bill aimed at eliminating deadly pedestrian accidents around school buses, as well as the kids’ inventive technology.
“These students have found a way to create change, one step at a time,” said Ann Woo, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America, during the meeting with Walorski in the Cannon House Office Building, just steps from the Capitol Dome. The STOP at School Buses Act of 2019 aims to do just that, through research and implementation of safety measures and prevention laws and by boosting safety technology and driver education.
“The timing of the legislation is synchronous with what the students are doing, and that’s because it’s an important issue,” Woo said. “We’re hopeful the students will feel a unique sense of empowerment from both their hard work and the visibility they’ve gained for such an important issue that affects not only their community but also so many others.”
Across the Capitol, the team of eighth-grade students from Deep Creek Middle School, in Chesapeake, VA, got a special introduction to Washington when they met with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), in the majestic, marble-lined Russell Senate Office Building. Kaine, who was presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, discussed the spark for Deep Creek’s project, “Sight for Tomorrow,” a web application and database that matches low-income students who have poor vision students with free eye exams and prescription glasses.
“We’re working with the school district to get school nurses involved and expand Sight for Tomorrow to all our schools,” said team teacher Paula Labbe. Student Olivia L., said they’ve already implemented the program in one elementary school, and the student participants in their own middle school are all experiencing improved grades, confidence and behavior now that they have the prescription glasses they needed.
The D.C. trip opened students’ eyes not only to government in action but also to career options they might never have considered. Lauren Marshall, legislative assistant for education policy to Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), told the students from Deep Creek Middle School about how her college education opened doors to political internships that ultimately led to her position as a staff member in Warner’s office. The students’ whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital also took them to a monumental art installation by sculptor Alexander Calder in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, where they paused for some team photos before dashing off to their next appointment on Capitol Hill.
“I would never have imagined myself as an eighth grader talking about our project with senators in Washington,” said Olivia. “It’s exciting!
Meanwhile, in the famed Capitol rotunda, at the very center of the U.S. Capitol, the Solve for Tomorrow winning team from Owensville High School, in Owensville, Missouri, was on a private tour guided by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO). During the team’s day in Washington, Hawley and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) each examined the team’s innovative yet simple metal intruder lock, designed by the group to be easily installed on classroom doors and help gain precious seconds for students and teacher to hide or escape in the event an armed intruder enters a school.
On the House side of the Capitol, the Owensville teens sat down with the congressman from their own district, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO-3).
“As a teacher, it’s not just about teaching your students science, technology, engineering and math. It’s about seeing your students work through their failures themselves. That’s something you can’t simulate in a textbook,” said Kevin Lay, the Owensville students’ teacher.
Congressman Luetkemeyer agreed. “It’s a real-world application,” he said. “Pretty nifty.”
The Missouri lawmaker queried the students about technical details of the design, such as strength testing, and was beaming with pride about their accomplishments. “Through your efforts, you have become examples to all other students,” Luetkemeyer said.
Following the teams’ congressional visits they showcased their projects at the Consumer Technology Association’s CES on the Hill event and were recognized at a luncheon held in their honor with guest speakers Kris Brown, Deputy Associate Administrator of STEM Engagement at NASA and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5) as well as a congratulatory video message sent to the students from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-3).
“I was thrilled to be a part of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow celebration. The students from Holly Grove Middle School, Owensville High School and Deep Creek Middle School have done amazing work that has made an impact,” said Brown. “These students are STEM superstars! Through their projects, they have discovered the power of STEM in creating possibilities that make a difference in people’s lives. Using STEM to enable powerful efforts that benefit society and our communities is vitally important as we move forward into the future.”
In her remarks, Dr. Foxx emphasized the need for more schools to teach STEM subjects nationwide and thanked Samsung for making STEM a priority. The congresswoman called public-private partnerships like Samsung Solve for Tomorrow a “commonsense solution to develop STEM education around the country,” adding “What a pleasure to meet such brilliant students from all three schools today… The fact that you’re all here shows your commitment to making the American workforce – and more importantly, the American worker – stronger for the future.”