Western Hills Middle School eighth-graders Victoria Badger, Jordan Buttie, Shania Chin and Mia Santomassimo, along with Western Hills educator Michael Blackburn, are celebrating their hard-earned victory in the 2021 eCybermission STEM competition
Western Hills Middle School eighth-graders Victoria Badger, Jordan Buttie, Shania Chin and Mia Santomassimo, along with Western Hills educator Michael Blackburn, are celebrating their hard-earned victory in the 2021 eCybermission STEM competition sponsored by the U.S. Army and the Army Educational Outreach Program.
The student team was the winner of the state title, and its members were recognized as regional finalists.
The four young women had originally decided to enter as two pairs, and when each found out that the others were entering, they opted to instead create one team, ultimately calling themselves “The Street Sweepers,” based on the theme of their project.
The students were all distance learners who had to work on their entry collaboratively and outside of the school day.
“We had to find a problem in our community and create a solution to solve it using science,” Chin explained.
Badger summarized their chosen problem, sand and debris found on the streets in their community, especially after plowing has taken place in the winter time, and their chosen solution, modern driverless street cleaners which would effectively clean the streets, filtering and cleaning the sand in order for it to be repurposed elsewhere in the state, such as places where beach erosion is a problem.
The group researched and studied seven major streets in the city, studying sand samples, weighing and measuring the amount of sand and creating formulas to determine the cost of their solution. In doing so, the group spoke to local civil engineers and industry experts and received input regarding annual budgets and pricing of materials and supplies.
“We were able to keep our cost to $100,000 including the shipping container to carry the sand, when normally the current cost is between $150,00 and $200,000,” Santomassimo said.
The group had determined that the shipping container would need to be able to carry several tons of sand, based on their research of the sand found just on their local major roadways, which yielded the equivalent of a small beach at more than 600 tons of sand.
According to Buttie, the group met virtually at least once per week as they created 3D models, worked out mathematical formulas and concept designs together. As the spring deadline neared, their meetings became longer, right up until the midnight deadline for their entry approached, with their final submission as described by Blackburn to be akin to a college level submission including slides, charts, tables, formulas, prototypes, data and transcriptions of interviews with experts. The project was a large one that required a great deal of time and effort by the entire team.
“We had to find the time to get together in between school and homework,” Chin said. “We had to find extra time.”
With the deadline looming ahead, the group worked to wrap up their loose ends, each person contributing to the project virtually.
“We watched virtually in a Google Meet as Victoria constructed the prototype into a 3D model,” said Blackburn, who shared his pride in the students and their efforts.
Santomassimo noted that many of the schools they were competing with were actual STEM schools with the needed supplies and materials at their fingertips.
Just prior to April vacation, the group found out that they were regional finalists and needed to create a four-minute presentation for the judges, a panel of U.S. Army scientists and engineers who would listen to the presentation and then ask related questions about their entry.
The WHMS students were ranked in the top three out of all of the eighth-grade teams from 13 different states across the country and Washington, D.C.
“They received glowing feedback from the judges, their presentation had no problems or errors,” Blackburn said. “They got the highest ratings on everything.”
“We are so proud of ourselves, and what we could do,” Santmassimo said. “It was such a fun experience, especially because we were all virtual. We talked every day and not just about STEM, but about books and we got Starbucks.”
According to Buttie, the project showed the team just what could be done, even during a global pandemic. “So much was shut down due to the pandemic, so many of our clubs couldn’t open this year, but we found out that we could do anything,” she said.
Each student received $1,000 in savings bonds for their placement as regional finalists and $1,000 in savings bonds for being named Best in State.