Today’s young people face an overwhelming slate of problems in their future: health disparities, gun violence, and the looming threat of climate change. As a parent, thinking about the kind of world that you’re leaving your kids can easily send you into a spiral of hopelessness. Luckily for us, there are plenty of kids out there who, rather than being frozen in fear or cynicism, are inspired to action.
To support such innovation, and to incentivize STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning, Samsung hosts an annual Solve for Tomorrow competition for public school students in grades 6-12 in which students are tasked with designing a solution to a problem facing their community. From hundreds of group entries across the nation, ten are chosen as finalists to compete in a pitch event held in New York City.
This year, three winning groups were awarded $100,000 in Samsung technology for their schools. The ten national finalists each received technology worth $50,000, and a hundred state-level finalists were given a $6,500 prize package, plus the opportunity to work with a Samsung employee mentor.
This year’s finalists came from across the country, and their innovations tackled issues ranging from distracted driving to helping kids with limb loss safely ride bikes.
Students spent months working on their projects, and the finalist teams and their teachers arrived in New York ready to pitch their idea before a panel of judges that included scientists, entrepreneurs, and executives.
Ariel Robinson, who came with her team from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to present their Aqua Shield, an extendable barrier to protect homes from flooding, says she and her team members wanted to design something that would have “life-changing impact.”
“There was a really big flood in Waverly, Tennessee,” Robinson tells Scary Mommy. “It cost a lot of money and took the lives of 20 people.” Realizing, “that could’ve been us,” Robinson says, “we found what we wanted to do.”
The process required dedicating long hours after school, and testing out several ideas before settling on the curtain design of their shield.
“When we first started this I didn’t think we would get this far,” says Robinson. “Seeing how I can work with other people, it’s definitely given me that confidence to make a change in the world.”
Robinson’s STEM Teacher, Zach Martin, tells Scary Mommy, “I’ve learned these kids are fearless. They just see a problem and tackle it and have fun doing it.”
This kind of innovative, project-based instruction, says Martin, has the ability to “change the dynamic of what that the STEM classroom is.”
The ten finalists took turns making professional presentations before the judges, wowing the audience with their insight, dedication, and poise.
This year’s three big winners were: a team from Porter High School in Porter, Texas who designed Pathfinder, a gun detection system using light and sound sensors that would help lead students to safety in the event of a mass shooting; a team from Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, who designed a system to make school bus routes more efficient, allowing districts to manage driver shortages; and a team from Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey, who designed the Bug-A-Low Bio Reactor, a receptacle that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by converting food waste into feed for black soldier flies, which, in turn, produce an oil that can be used as a replacement for ecologically destructive palm oil.
It’d be nice if kids could imagine themselves into the future without having to solve so many of our serious problems, but if these students become tomorrow’s decision makers, the world will certainly be in capable hands.