LOS LUNAS — Hundreds of students from across New Mexico convened at Los Lunas High School on Saturday for the first-ever New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge, a competition testing students’ ability to use science, technology, engineering and math to solve real-world problems.
Teams from public, private and charter high schools participated, along with judges from 19 New Mexico STEM employers, plus educators, volunteers and government officials. Each team was composed of 10 students, who made a computer simulation or prototype answering the question posed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, “How can you use science and technology to make the world safer?”
The teams displayed their prototypes for the judges in the gymnasium at the STEM Challenge, and each of the 19 employers awarded a prize of $5,000 — $500 for each student — for a total of $95,000 in prize money. Participating students also earned a varsity letter from the New Mexico Activities Association.
The only Valencia County team to win at the event was from Belen High School for their project, “Roads to a Safer Environment,” a porous road-surface material made from repurposed waste asphalt and plastic that prevents flash flooding and allows for water catchment.
The team members were Cesar Varela, Victor Schiller, Joseph Starnes, Keenan Detlor, Karen Aguilar, Lizzie Boggus, Brendan Page, and Breana Norton. The team was sponsored and coached by Mr. Rhett Burt.
The Los Lunas High School team, who included Lorenzo Sanchez, Alicia Roybal, Chase Bernal, Jeremiah Lucero, Joshua Ward, Cesar Ortega, Kade Benavidez, and their teachers, Lorenzo Sanchez and John Gabaldon, created a solar panel powered vehicle using 3-D printing.
The students said the vehicle would have solar panels all over the car, which would continuously be charging on sunny days. The vehicle could be charged at home or at a charging station when clouds are blocking the sun.
While the vehicle could be expensive on the onset, the students said it will save on the price of gas in the long term, and would reduce the amount of emissions into the environment.
The LLHS students worked as a team, but they broke out into four different groups — mechanical, electricity, solar and data collection — to complete the project. It took two weeks to print the 3-D, eight-part exhibit.
Judges were from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing, Chevron, Descartes Labs, Deloitte, El Paso Electric, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan Inc., Intel, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Meow Wolf, N3B Los Alamos, Pattern Energy, PNM, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, RS21, Sandia National Laboratories, Urenco and Virgin Galactic.
“The work of these students and their teacher leaders is inspiring,” said New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart. “I’m also excited to see high numbers of students from rural communities and female students taking part in the program. Historically, these groups have been underrepresented in STEM career fields. Opportunities like the Governor’s Challenge are working to address this gap in representation, and we are thrilled to see the innovation these student groups are bringing to the governor’s competition.”
“These businesses are worldwide leaders in technology and are here to show our students that getting an education doesn’t mean you have to move out of state when you graduate,” wrote Bill McCamley, New Mexico cabinet secretary of Workforce Solutions in a press release. “We have plenty of great paying jobs right here in the Land of Enchantment, if you get the right skills.”
Los Alamos National Laboratory provided coordination and support through its Community Partnerships Office, which emphasizes economic development, STEM education, and volunteerism. The LANL Foundation coordinated STEM employer contributions and provided funds for travel and other resources to eligible public-school teams. The Foundation invests in early childhood education, STEM programming, and teacher development.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.