Top Student Scientists Eye Grand Prize in Samsung’s STEM Contest
They’re keeping their eyes on the prize.
Ten teams of young scientists from public schools around the country are set to descend on New York City for a whirlwind visit that will include a formal pitch to a panel of judges and the glittering grand-prize reveal event on the legendary Intrepid aircraft carrier, as Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow 2019 STEM contest heads to its exciting finale.
The contest challenges 6th to 12th grade public school students to solve a challenge in their community using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For many of the top ten national finalist teams, selected from among thousands of entrants, the promise of making a real-world difference was their inspiration. And now, their creative STEM solutions are on their way to changing the world.
Deep Creek Middle School, in Chesapeake, Virginia
“Regardless of the outcome of the competition, we have won because we have given the gift of sight to our students,” said Paula Labbe, physical science teacher at Deep Creek Middle School, in Chesapeake, Virginia, whose team created “Sight for Tomorrow,” a website and mobile app that matches high-need students who have poor vision with access to free eye exams and prescription glasses.
Since launching their app, every student at the school who needs glasses has received them or soon will, and students have expanded the service to other local schools, she said.
“They’ve seen their efforts have a direct, positive impact on the lives of their classmates, a positive impact on the world,” and that has fueled her students’ confidence, Labbe said.
“They’re able to discuss our project with authority. They’ve become champions at giving interviews.”
Concord High School, Wilmington, DE
A student from the National Finalist team in Wilmington, Delaware said he’s learned the most from the process of designing a product for a “real-world client.”
“Samsung Solve for Tomorrow has given me a sense of inspiration that what I’m working on is valuable to others and a sense of responsibility to do better,” said Micah M., of Concord High School, whose team designed hands-on assistive learning devices to help elementary-school students with disabilities succeed in the classroom.
Concord team teacher Jordan Estock said his students grew in their ability to empathize with the people they were trying to support – and gained so much in return.
“Meeting the teachers and students who needed our help served as the perfect motivator throughout our design process,” Estock said.
Lawrence High School’s ENLACE, Lawrence, MA
In Lawrence, Massachusetts, a high school team of English-language learners new to the community were driven to help their new neighbors after a series of gas explosions in rocked their town and environs, a tragedy that destroyed dozens of homes and claimed the life of a teenager. Using a 3D printer, the students designed a safety valve to help prevent future gas line blasts due to high pressure – and earned themselves the National Finalist title in the contest.
Team teacher Shaddai Vargas, an art teacher in Lawrence High School’s ENLACE (Engaging Newcomers in Language & Content Education) program, said that their efforts to address the threat garnered much media attention, as well as interest from the gas company responsible.
“They looked at our prototype and were amazed because it had a lot in common with a safety device they were planning on buying,” Vargas said. “That let us know that we were going in the right direction, and students felt really proud of their work.”
Vargas’s students have faced an added challenge in the contest to overcome language barriers while learning the STEM skills critical to designing the prototype, but said the results have been worth it.
“Students realize that all their efforts will serve as scaffolding for upcoming students’ efforts, which has given them even more purpose,” said Vargas. “It’s an honor for us to be able to raise awareness among schools about implementing STEM and show how it can align with community needs.”
Richland Two Institute of Innovation, Columbia, SC
Two of the top ten teams used STEM to take on the pressing national issue of school safety. Students from Richland Two Institute of Innovation, in Columbia, South Carolina, created an electromagnetic door lock and curtain that swiftly secures classrooms.
Team teacher Kirstin Bullington said she was moved to see her student engineers realize that “they already have the ability to solve problems in their community.” As a result, Bullington explained, this helped them transform their feelings of frustration and helplessness in the midst of a national epidemic of gun violence. Community input also helped the students build a more robust solution while learning that “failure is a part of design.” and growing their confidence as they worked through each obstacle that arose.
“The application of STEM to real-world problems drastically increases student engagement and changes how confident the students are in pursuing STEM careers,” Bullington said. “No matter what career each student ultimately pursues, I believe participating in Solve for Tomorrow will leave a positive imprint on their futures.”
The next step for the students of Richland Two could be one of the most fruitful in their process.
“I love that our students get the opportunity to travel to New York and pitch their idea – it just reinforces the authenticity of their learning experience,” Bullington said.
Owensville High School, Owensville, MO
Addressing the same issue, Owensville High School, in Owensville, Missouri, designed a one-piece steel lock that quickly secures a classroom against an armed intruder and is not easily disengaged from outside the classroom.
Owensville team teacher Kevin Lay said it took input from the broader community to make his students’ vision a reality.
“We needed an engineer to let us know what was even realistic in our design. We needed our lead maintenance technician to show us what was really applicable not only in our school’s door system but adapted for other schools’ doors,” Lay said. “The importance of community involvement could be the biggest reason why these amazing students are going to New York.”
Lay’s team saw their final design brought to life by a nearby aerospace manufacturer.
“These students know that the result of their work could have a life-changing impact on any child they see walk through our school doors,” he said. “They’re willing and ready to embrace their role and make change.”
Goddard High School, Goddard, KS
In Goddard, Kansas, the students from Goddard High School, carefully brought together the right ingredients for a GPS-enabled device to help children in foster homes who may experience abuse contact authorities in an emergency.
“When we visited the Child Advocacy Center, all the startling statistics became reality for my students,” said Goddard team teacher Cassie Banka. “They heard about the atrocious things children in our community experienced. They witnessed how community agencies work together to find the safest place for children. They learned just how many children enter the foster care system every year. And they knew they had to make a positive change.”
Banka explained they became so invested in their community in the process, that her students willingly attended weekend work sessions on their project, and even came in over spring break to work.
“Students now understand just how impactful our device could be in the lives of so many children,” she said.
Holly Grove Middle School, Holly Springs, NC
At Holly Grove Middle School in Holly Springs, North Carolina a different kind of safety issue became top of mind for teacher Debbie Schelin’s students: preventing pedestrian accidents when students are getting on and off a school bus. So the team created a smart school bus stop sign that alerts drivers even before a school bus arrives, and helps prevent pedestrian accidents.
Team teacher Debbie Schelin said students involved their community in every step of their process, with peer and parent surveys, school bus driver focus groups and meetings with the school district’s transportation directors, an engineer from the state’s Department of Transportation, the Owensville town council and local law enforcement.
“Solve for Tomorrow has given my students a real-world opportunity to grow as involved community members, STEM researchers, collaborators and problem solvers,” Schelin said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for kids to create their own learning path.”
Northern Cass Middle School, Hunter, ND
For a team from a small town in North Dakota, participation in Solve for Tomorrow has had wide-ranging effects.
According to the students’ video created for the contest, it can take 30 minutes or more for emergency personnel to respond to a situation in Hunter, so the team devised a way to make the journey constructive. “EVA” (Emergency Video Assistance) connects the caller, dispatcher and emergency personnel via video chat, provides step-by-step instructions for lifesaving skills like CPR, and helps first responders assess and understand the situation before arriving.
“Our school is in the middle of nowhere with a total population of 600 students K through 12, so proving to themselves that they can compete with anyone in the nation on such an intense challenge has been great,” said Northern Cass team teacher Ben Hannasch, adding the confidence they’ve gained in the process has translated to the classroom.
Fairfield High School, Fairfield, OH
The National Finalist team from Fairfield High School, in Fairfield, Ohio derived inspiration and input from their community as they sought to reduce local carbon dioxide emissions by creating Operation Thaw, an app-controlled, solar-powered car heating device that defrosts the windshield without starting the vehicle.
“The community reinforced for our group the importance of our fix and allowed students to see that their solution was not just academic, but actually beneficial in the real world,” said team teacher Kurt Etter. “Each successive interaction with community members increased the focus and drive of the students to complete the project.”
Los Altos High School, Hacienda Heights, CA
The very real-world problem of mosquito-borne disease transmission was the target of a Southern California high school team’s Solve for Tomorrow innovation. Students at Los Altos High School, in Hacienda Heights, created an affordable and environmentally safe trap to combat the increase in tiger mosquitos, which carry deadly viruses like Zika, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya.
Using a 3D-printed design, the team remedied the standing-water problem of traditional mosquito traps by creating a trap with a replaceable plug that dissolves over time and allows water to exit automatically. They also designed a mobile app that encourages the community to maintain their traps and report on mosquito activity.
The right design didn’t come easily, but the process yielded priceless lessons, said Paul Fang, the students’ teacher.
“Students strengthened their resilience when things didn’t go as planned,” he said. “We’ve gone through multiple prototypes, and we’re still trying to improve it!”
True testimony that these 2019 Solve for Tomorrow national finalists have learned the pursuit of STEM innovation is not a one-time endeavor but an endless exploration.
On April 1st and 2nd, the 10 national finalist teams will present their STEM projects at Samsung 837 and at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Three of the teams will be named National Winners in the contest and take home grand prizes of $100,000 in Samsung technology and classroom supplies for their schools.