Program Associate, Small Business Innovation
Are you smarter than a high school student? Let’s find out. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to design an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to address precision agriculture. Stumped?
Believe it or not, that was the topic of this year’s Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), an annual competition that provides high school students the opportunity to work on STEM challenges in a team environment.
We’ve all heard that experience is the best teacher, and because of the RWDC, 14-18 year-olds from around the state recently had an opportunity to gain valuable STEM experience. And by the way, as you can see from the challenge topic, these aren’t just theoretical problems or classroom case studies. These are assignments that deal with actual problems that our leading industries face.
These students are the innovators of tomorrow, and they’re getting a leg up on their peers by participating. They aren’t going in blind, either. The program connects high school teams with industry mentors who provide their time and engineering expertise so students can learn from the best.
But what’s the big deal about STEM? According to the National Science Foundation (NSF):
“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”
No small feat.
If Connecticut wants to maintain a competitive place in global leadership, it’s important to engage our best and brightest students in the STEM fields. And if you think that STEM is just for geeks and eggheads, consider the role of technology in our daily lives, not to mention in today’s workplace. As occupations continue to be supported by an increasingly complex technological environment, STEM knowledge and skills become even more important across the entire workforce.
RWDC is a great program and Connecticut Innovations is proud to support it because we believe in the value of STEM education. The students got great experience, the industry got great ideas, both sides began great relationships, and CI got the opportunity to encourage young innovators and foster excitement in STEM projects, planting the seeds for a great future pipeline.
The RWDC has really caught on in the state, and students are very excited about getting in on it. One student from East Hartford High School said:
“If you had asked me a year ago, I never would have thought I would be participating in a competition like this. Even though we didn’t win, I am so proud of what we accomplished and can’t wait to participate again next year.”
This year, four teams participated in the state competition: Amity Regional High School, Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, East Hartford High School and Xavier High School in Middletown. Connecticut Innovations and CT Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) provided administrative and technical support, and the corporate sponsor, Pratt and Whitney, supplied more than ten mentors and two judges to guide the teams. Kudos to all the participants and congratulations to Amity Aviation-1, Amity Regional High School’s team, who came away with first place and a crack at the national championship!
Check out Amity’s winning design here: