Stillwater high school students show off high-tech learning at STEM Showcase

Stillwater 11th-grader George Onufer shows off the 3D printed cellphone wrist case that he created in his technology class. (Gazette staff photo by Alicia Lebens)
Stillwater 11th-grader George Onufer shows off the 3D printed cellphone wrist case that he created in his technology class. (Gazette staff photo by Alicia Lebens)

Since its implementation in the 2010-2011 school year, the Stillwater Area School District’s Project Lead the Way has been reaching to give more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses to students who would otherwise would not have considered pursuing science careers. Students engaged in the high school’s STEM classes had an opportunity to present their end-of-year projects to members of the school board during a STEM Showcase May 31.

“To see when kids (talk) about the program and (talk) about what they want to do later in life — it is very gratifying,” Board Member Mike Ptacek said.

“It’s kids passionate about their classes and their after-school activities, because it is something that they are interested in,” Board Member George Hoeppner said.

Frustrated by the expensive and inaccurate video game merchandise produced by the game companies, George Onufer, an 11th-grader from Marine on St. Croix, used his time in the Fabrication Lab to create a life-like version of an armband communication device from the video game Fallout.

“I wanted to create something with a high level of detail, that would actually work like the device in the game,” Onufer said. The model that the game company made for sale was an alarm clock and not the armband that Onufer wanted. “It also cost $300.”

Using pictures taken from the game and 3D computer-assisted design (CAD) software, Onufer engineered the life-like armband cellphone case using a 3D printer and his own cellphone. Just like in the game, he is able to communicate with friends using the futuristic-looking design.

“I needed to create a Flash file that plays while the wristband is on to look true to the character, but it looks just like the one in the game,” Onufer said. With two months of design time and $100-worth of materials, Onufer was able to make his vision come true at a fraction of the cost.

“This is something I want to do as a career,” he said. “When I moved here from upstate New York a year ago, I didn’t have any experience with stuff like this. My parents are amazed by the stuff I can do now.”

Added in the 2012-2013 school year, the civil engineering course gives students real-life challenges. This year the challenge was creating a fire hall design for the Bayport Fire Department.

Bayport Fire Chief Mark Swenson gave a mock consultation to the civil engineering class on what the fire department needs and where the building would go. The class then went out to tour the building site, and other area fire departments, to create a design sketch for members of the fire department to look at.

“They listened to what we had to say, and came up with some interesting designs,” Swenson said.

When asked if the fire department would ever work with the school’s civil engineering classes again, Swenson said it absolutely would.

“The community gets together and really gets to see what the kids are doing in their classes,” Swenson said.

Coming off of an eighth place win in the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition, the Stillwater Area High School Armada 2508 team credits its success this year to the leadership of team captain, senior Holly Newton.

In her second year on the team, Newton set a tough goal of finishing the build season in five weeks instead of the usual six weeks.

“There are always bugs in the system to work out, and I wanted to leave time at the end before competition,” Newton said.

One of the goals of the Project Lead the Way program is to provides opportunities to develop skills in collaboration, communication and critical thinking — all skills the robotics team uses to complete a robot.

“Even if you think you can’t engineer the robot, you are going to find a place on the team,” Margot Redmond said.

Redmond’s role on the team was to raise the nearly $15,000 needed to construct and manage the team’s robot.

“It takes $5,000 to enter the tournament,” Redmond said. “This is a huge amount of money, and it’s a big commitment.”

Redmond says the team will continue to use the organizational structure that Newton put in place in the next year.

“It’s just like a business,” Redmond said. “There are people that advertise for the team, scout out other teams to work with, and there are the people that drive and build the robot.”

For teacher Todd Kapsner, seeing his students complete their year-end projects always leaves him impressed with their abilities.

“You hope they do well, and it is really rewarding to see them articulate what they have learned all year,” Kapsner said.

The goal of Kapsner’s classes is to give hands-on experiences on what career paths are out there for students looking to the future.

“Not many students get the chance to try the things that our students get to do in the technology classes,” Kapsner said.

Kapsner said he only sees students’ interest growing in the science fields and is excited to see what they come up with next year.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]