At STEMposium, DODDS students examine cleaning up the oceans
Outside the confines of the classroom, more than a hundred students from Defense Department schools are developing solutions for plastic that’s polluting the world’s oceans.
“We’re all wanting to live long on this earth,” said Sigonella junior Carson Morrison, “We’re seeing that because of what past generations have done, we’re kind of on the short end — we have to do something about it.”
Morrison is one of 108 students participating in the annual STEMposium, where students use science, technology, engineering and math to brainstorm solutions to major issues facing the planet.
In 18 teams of six — all named after letters of the Greek alphabet — each student has an assigned role. There is a biotech engineer, a green technology engineer, a robotics engineer, a marine engineer, an environmental engineer and a computer simulations engineer. They’ve been playing out those roles this week at a hostel in central Germany.
“What engineers do is solve problems using tools and materials. You can’t do that entirely in your brain or on a computer screen; you have to build something,” said Frank Pendzich of Wiesbaden High School, who organized the STEMposium for students from the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. “So, that’s why our kids are building submarines, or robots and things like that.”
A study published in Science magazine in February showed that the amount of plastic garbage in the ocean equals five plastic bags for every foot of coastline worldwide. That’s having a growing impact on ocean chemistry and sea life.
The intellectual energy around the hostel, where students are staying for the week, is palpable.
“You hear kids during breakfast and lunch, and they’re all talking about their meetings, or you overhear them in the hallway talking about what they’re doing and sharing information,” said Anita Lang, an engineering teacher at Lakenheath High School and an adviser for team Zeta. “They’re used to seeing teachers as the experts, but now they are seeing each other as the experts.”
Megan Bernard, a sophomore from Bitburg High School, who plans on a career in medicine, said there has been a strong collegial ethic.
“Planning our team-building activities has been really fun, because we have to find a way to work together,” she said.
On Monday, the groups met with their faculty advisers in seminars to get a more solid grasp on the subject matter before heading out Wednesday on field trips. On Tuesday, each group had to present its proposal at a mock news conference, with other students asking questions.
At an open house on Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., students will showcase their efforts, and the robotics and underwater remotely-operated vehicles they have created.
The three groups deemed to have the best plans to solve the problem will be recognized, but the advisers are confident everyone will have benefited.
“I truly believe there is someone in this group who is going to cure cancer, build an engine that doesn’t pollute, solve the world’s energy crisis,” Pendzich said. “I think by being here their chance of doing that is much higher than if they stayed in the classroom back home.”