Student STEM Champions Shine, Inspire in Samsung Contest
“Grateful doesn’t begin to cover how we feel about being here,” said Kevin Lay, teacher to a team of three high schoolers from Missouri’s Owensville High School who were about to pitch their potentially life-saving technology to a panel of judges in New York City in a bid to win $100,000 in Samsung technology for their school.
It was their first visit to NYC, and two out of three team members were fresh off their first-ever airplane ride because they’d made it to the final round of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which challenges 6th through 12th graders in public schools to solve a problem in their community using Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Paige T., Jonah H. and Trey F. were calmly waiting to go before cameras and a big, live audience to present their answer to reinforcing school safety – a prototype of their “intruder lock” concept. It’s a simple-to-use door lock that quickly secures a classroom in the event an armed intruder were to gain entry. Once installed on the interior of a door, the one-piece lock can be easily and quickly put into place to prevent an intruder from entering.
“These kids are going to make change in the world,” Lay said, on the sidelines of the pitch event. The 10 National Finalist teams had already won $50,000 each in Samsung technology and supplies for their schools – items like Samsung Chromebooks and tablets, 3D printers and more — essential tools in today’s classroom and in the world of work.
“They care about creating a legacy – they want to leave something behind,” Lay emphasized.
The three students took the stage. Paige T., Owensville’s project leader, took the mic. “We wanted to create a safe learning environment for students,” she said, presenting the deceptively small pair of metal brackets (easily installed into a door and its frame) and the little piece of metal that connects the two and locks the door.
“If you can save precious moments or seconds with this lock, that’s all it could take to potentially save lives,” Jonah H. said.
The three young scientists’ efforts to tackle a pressing issue facing schools across the nation earned them a Solve for Tomorrow grand prize and they’ve since returned home as local heroes.
Sixth-graders from North Carolina also nabbed one of three grand prizes for their smart school bus stop sign, which alerts drivers to an oncoming school bus well before it arrives to help prevent pedestrian accidents.
Making their final pitch to the judges at Samsung 837, the company’s marketing center of excellence, Holly Grove Middle School team members Evan K., Reanna R. and Boston H. explained how their smart sign was built to reduce the stop-arm violations that can cause fatal pedestrian accidents around school buses. The students reported a limited trial locally in Holly Springs, NC resulted in fewer stop-arm violations in precisely the hot spots where there had previously been the most.
That’s because the 19-member Holly Grove team equipped the sign with bright lights that shine yellow when a bus is 400 feet away from the sign, flash yellow when the bus is at 200 feet and shine red when the bus is 100 feet away, triggered by an accompanying mobile application the school bus driver has that communicates with the sign. Team teacher Debbie Schelin explained that because the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest specifically challenges students and their teachers to address a local community issue and engage local experts to refine the STEM project, the Holly Grove Middle School team met with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, school board officials and local law enforcement, during their design process.
Schelin described a journey of learning STEM skills and self-discovery that no team member could have predicted.
“Every inch of the way has been healthy and positive for them,” she said. “And it’s reignited my passion for teaching.”
The contest strengthened students’ interest in STEM and so much more, she said.
“I’ve noticed more confidence in themselves, in who they are, what they can become and the change they can make in the world.”
“It’s just been incredible,” Evan K. said after the win. Even though the New York Samsung experience was different from anything he’s ever known, this 6th grader had it all in perspective.
“I think we’ll probably put some of the prize into starting a STEM program at our school,” he added.
Rounding out the grand prize winners was the team from Deep Creek Middle School, in Chesapeake, VA, for their website and app that matches students in need and who have poor vision with free eye exams and prescription glasses.
“A lot of kids in our school have trouble seeing in class, but they can’t get glasses because they’re not financially stable,” said Olivia L., making her pitch to the judges.
Beyond creating the technology, students also arranged for countless glasses donations and phoned optometrists in their area to ask for donated services. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Their project, “Sight for Tomorrow,” is already working in their own school: Every Deep Creek student who needs glasses either has them now or is on their way to receiving them, and the team hopes to implement it district-wide.
With the grand-prize win, they’re setting their sights even higher.
“Now we have a chance to expand the program and help even more kids,” said team teacher Paula Labbe. The students also hope their design can be used nationwide.
“This was my first STEM experience. We didn’t know how to make an app or a website, so we figured it out as we went along,” said team member Olivia L., who wants to become an obstetrician. “But I never thought we’d get to New York! It’s been pretty exciting.”
Teammate Hunter J. said the journey was “surreal.”
“Something that started so small materialized into winning a national contest,” he marveled, moments after learning Team Deep Creek had won.
In between the pitch event at Samsung 837, and the glittering awards gala and STEM fair at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the National Finalist teams’ schedule was packed. They met with start-up entrepreneurs at Samsung NEXT, where they got an overview of how to take their projects to the next level.
“The workshops focused on the business side of STEM, and it showed us that we can get this out there,” said Jonah H., of Owensville High School.
After a whirlwind tour of New York City the following morning atop an open double-decker bus, the 10 teams made their way to the legendary aircraft carrier Intrepid for a Samsung STEM fair, where they fielded deeper questions from attendees while exhibiting their projects.
Owensville students, for example, explained how their project was as much an exercise in psychology as it was in technology. Locking the door can make students and teacher feel safer and more in control of their lives in a dire situation, while the tech itself disrupts an armed intruder’s plan and disorients precisely when it could make all the difference.
In 10 short weeks, the 10 Samsung Solve for Tomorrow National Finalist teams truly grew – as scientists, as students and as citizens. That’s what project-based STEM learning is all about, and that’s why Samsung is committed to the movement.
“The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest changes a lot of students’ lives,” said Owensville team teacher Kevin Lay, adding, “But because of this experience I know that I’m a changed teacher.”