Intermittent rains drove the event indoors but did little otherwise to dampen the enthusiasm of more than 120 fifth-through-eighth-graders from around the region who competed in the Junior Solar Sprint, or JSS, competition, hosted by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground April 22.
The JSS is sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program, or AEOP, and the Technology Student Association, or TSA. It provides a hands-on opportunity for students in grades five to eight to apply science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, concepts, creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills as they design, construct and race a solar-powered car.
Entries are evaluated on creativity and innovation; the display documentation notebook; the artisanship and engineering of the model solar car; and racing performance. Students who are part of a registered TSA chapter or who compete at an approved Army host site are eligible to compete. The first-place winners of Saturday’s event advanced to the finals competition in Orlando, Florida in June.
Matt Kiefert, ARL STEM outreach coordinator, praised the organization for its support of the program.
“ARL does a phenomenal job providing resources to do things like this,” he said, adding that the competition is in its fifth year on APG and with 31 registered teams this this was the largest event yet.
“We started with seven teams and now more and more middle schools in Harford and Cecil counties and Baltimore City are participating,” he said.
“This is the overall goal, getting children more involved in STEM early,” he added. “The more involved they become now, the better they’ll be with STEM subjects in high school. And hopefully, after college they’ll come back to APG.”
The takeaway, he added, is simply having fun while learning.
“It’s the networking and sportsmanship building that makes it fun and if STEM is fun then children will want to pursue it.”
Participating schools and organizations included Deer Crossing Elementary School, Frederick County; Fallston Middle School; Havre de Grace Middle School; Magnolia Middle School in Joppa; North East Middle School; Oakdale Middle School, Frederick County; Southampton Middle School, Bel Air; Thompson Estates Elementary School, Elkton, Maryland; Vivian Burey Marshall Academy, Baltimore; and the Havre de Grace and Aberdeen Boys & Girls Clubs.
In the morning, car inspections and model and documentation judging took place along with the initial heat races. The championship races took place after a lunch break followed by final tabulations and award presentation. The first-place award went to team Helios Chariot made up of two seventh- graders, Sara Busch and Marissa Yancone of Havre de Grace Middle School. Both said they were surprised and excited to hear their names called and that they look forward to the trip to Orlando. Busch is the daughter of Mike Busch, a civilian with the JPM-NBC-CA.
“This is awesome, Busch said as he and spouse Mary Beth celebrated with the girls. “She always has liked the sciences. We helped and coached along the way but they did most of the work themselves. We were confident but I was still surprised to hear their name called.”
Coincidentally, the Havre de Grace Boys and Girls Club took second place. Team members included Marie Webb, De’nez Johnson, Michael Maroney and Alyssa Maroney.
The third-place team consisted of team members Alysa Rossi and Clayton Perron, sixth-graders from Oakdale Middle School and Grace Myers, a fifth-grader with Deer Crossing Elementary School.
“Myers said she the program fits with her goal to become an engineer.
“This was my first year and it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I learned a lot about solar panel.”
Parent/coach Brett Perron said the team started slow but then “they started getting into it.”
“I’m really proud of them,” he said. “They ran into difficulties but they kept trying and never gave up. We definitely want to do this again next year.”
Anna Lam, an eighth-grader at Bel Air Middle School, would have won the ‘best dressed award’ if it existed. She wore a pretty pale green dress to the competition because she had a piano recital afterward.
“This was a really good competition,” she said after racing her solar car to a successful finish. “Things are going well and I think I have a good chance today.”
Desmond McAllister, a Magnolia Middle School eighth-grader and member of The Inferior Superiors, said he was recently accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Edgewood High School.
“I’m interested in robotics and math and I plan to go into architectural design,” he said, adding that he’s competed in similar STEM-related competitions. “This one is a lot of fun and a good learning experience,” he added. “We’re having a great time here today.”