’Stoga team places first in regional STEM competition

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By Betty Ben Dor, Photography Editor

A team of Conestoga sophomores recently pulled off an epic feat in their first place win at the regional Governor’s PA STEM Competition. The competition dealt with all aspects of STEM education: science, technology, engineering and math.

“I think (the cause of the team’s success) was a combination of their passion and energy for the subject. As they were presenting, you could tell that they really believed in their idea and I think that that was contagious and the judges saw that and they liked that about it,” said team sponsor and computer science and physics teacher Edward Sharick.

The competition, which is in its second year, took place at the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) on Feb. 1. This year’s theme was “Improving Pennsylvania through STEM.” Students competing in the event had to come up with a creative way to help the local environment. Each team was required to write a proposal that, if passed, would earn them a $500 stipend to actually construct a prototype of their model.

The Conestoga team, consisting of sophomores Eric Xue, Jordan Liu, Reese Caldwell and Harrison Zhang, developed a project titled “Novel use of dialysis bags and sodium polyacrylate in algae biofuel extraction.” The team’s project includes a water reduction phase which uses algae cells and dialysis bags. It removes water from a solution while exposing the high energy oils. This will create an alternate energy source to lower carbon emissions and slow down global warming.

“The competition itself gave them an opportunity to present their ideas in a scientific setting which I think is beneficial. I think that’s really good practice,” Sharick said. “I think it is really important that they were able to see other schools and ideas and that they were able to critically watch that.”

The competition consisted of the initial submission of the project, as well as two phases during the actual day of the event. The first phase required teams to elaborate on their proposals in front of a panel of judges, who ranged from retired scientists to businessmen, and explain how their model would impact the environment and what improvements they could make to their project.

“The best part was definitely getting the feedback from the judges. It was all really positive and encouraging,” Caldwell said.

In the second part of the competition, the team had roughly half an hour to create an airplane that could safely transport an egg using materials given to them such as tissue paper, cardstock and glue. The second phase was meant to enforce teamwork, collaboration, working under pressure and creativity.

The team’s main struggle throughout the entire process was with issues of time management.

“I think the way they approached it was good but I think as they go and approach the state competition they need to make sure that they are a little more prepared,” Sharick said. “I’d like to try and encourage them as we move forward that we get a little bit ahead so that we know going into the state competition, confidently, that this is going to work.”

Since Conestoga’s team finished first in their region, they will advance to the state competition to be held on May 27. The team will have to submit an additional proposal in March and have already received an additional $750 to build and implement improvements to their model. They plan to upgrade their device so that it can lyse cells more efficiently.

“The best part of the experience was definitely working together and presenting our ideas and thoughts to the judges,” Zhang said.

Betty Ben Dor can be reached at [email protected].