Samsung Solve for Tomorrow finalists are headed to New York City
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Samsung Solve for Tomorrow finalists are headed to New York City

From Los Altos High School, an affordable, environmentally safe mosquito trap and app to combat the local mosquito infestation in Hacienda Heights, Calif. Custom-built assistive technology devices for special needs students in Wilmington, Del., created by students at the local Concord High School. From Goddard High School, a GPS and messaging device for foster children in Goddard, Kan., where nearly 20 percent of the state’s foster population resides, to alert case managers or the police in case of abuse or emergency.

These are just a few of the projects developed by the finalists in the ninth annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The competition challenges U.S. middle and high school public teachers to develop detailed lesson plans utilizing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. The goal is to encourage students to apply STEM-forward ways of thinking in developing solutions to complex issues facing their local communities.

Ten nationwide finalists have now edged out 50 state winners, and they are heading to New York City, where Samsung will select the final three grand prize winners, as well as a Community Choice winner chosen by the public. In addition to making their final pitches to judges in April, students will participate in one-on-one mentorship meetings, a career panel, and a STEM fair.

Investing in a new generation
The Solve for Tomorrow Contest is a chance for Samsung to provide entrepreneur mentorship while at the same time helping educators gain access to technology and supplies. This year, Samsung collaborated with DonorsChoose.org, the nation’s top fundraising site for public school teachers, to offer direct funding to the first 3,500 teachers who applied to the program. Samsung awarded a tablet to each of the 250 state finalists for classroom use and invited the teachers to submit a lesson plan for the STEM project they proposed.

The 50 winning teams from each state received $20,000 in technology and supplies for their schools, as well as a video kit to help explain their project. The top 10 schools received $50,000 in technology and supplies, plus a free trip for their students to go to New York City to present their projects at a final awards competition.

The top three national winners will bring back $100,000 in classroom technology and supplies for their schools, while the Community Choice winner is also eligible to receive an additional $10,000 in Samsung technology. Since the program launched in 2009, the competition has provided more than $23 million in technology supplies to more than 1,700 public schools in the country.

Local problems, global solutions
While the monetary awards are a carrot for the students and teachers, giving local teachers and students an opportunity to use technology to address community concerns is at the heart of the program. From bus fatalities to school shootings, technology can help address many ongoing problems at schools today. Utilizing 3-D printers, computer-aided design software, Arduino technology, and delving head-first into developing their own apps, the finalists this year created a breadth of such solutions.

Students at Owensville High School in Owensville, Mo., for instance, invented an intruder safety lock to keep doors closed in the case of a door lock failure. Thinking along similar lines, students at the Richland Two Institute of Innovation in Columbia, S.C., developed an electromagnetic smart lock that closes doors swiftly with the flip of a switch, as well as unfolds a bullet-resistant curtain to shield the door.

To alert drivers who ignore the traditional stop signs beckoning out of school buses, students at Holly Grove Middle School in Holly Springs, N.C., created a bus sensor and smart stop sign that changes colors 400 feet before drivers approach a stop. City officials were so impressed with this invention that they are now planning to install smart stop signs at the city locations where the most violations occur.

Indeed, many of the solutions students developed over the course of this year’s competition may well find applications outside of school settings. For instance, when a series of explosions caused by natural gas leaks rocked Lawrence, Mass., students at the Engaging Newcomers in Language & Content Education (ENLACE) program at Lawrence High School developed a device to help prevent future explosions and gas leaks that high gas pressure in aging heating systems might ignite.

With snow regularly heaping upon vehicles in cold winter months, students at Fairfield High School in Fairfield, Ohio, developed a solar-powered, remote control heater to help defrost cars more quickly and efficiently, and minimize the amount of air pollution generated from heating up a car.

Knowing it can take as long as 40 minutes for emergency personnel to arrive in their rural area, students at Northern Cass Middle School in Hunter, N.D., created an app that modernizes the 911 system. The app incorporates a video interface responders can rely on to assess a situation while en route to a destination, as well as step-by-step directions for lifesaving skills like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.

Another solution among the top 10 finalists addresses the high cost of eye exams and prescription glasses. Many school children, whose parents cannot afford regular doctor visits, have undiagnosed eye problems that inevitably affect their learning. To address this problem, students at Deep Creek Middle School in Chesapeake, Va., created a website and app for high-need students with poor vision to access free exams and donated prescription eyeglasses.

“The scale and importance of the issues addressed in this year’s contest,” says Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship at Samsung Electronics America, “reflect how students are taking responsibility for their role as change agents for the future.”

The final awards ceremony will take place Tuesday, April 2, in New York.

For more information on the competition and a full description of this year’s finalists, visit the Samsung Solve website.

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