The room buzzes with excitement. Anticipation electrifies the air. Hundreds of people have gathered to showcase their expertise in science and technology.
It is, in fact, the 2019 Augusta County STEM Expo. Scores of middle school students fill the room. They have spent weeks designing innovative solutions for gardening and agriculture; reverse engineering everything from VCRs to laptops; assessing ways in which music affects mood and the mind; and more. They have had fun exploring the world around them through the lenses of science and math.
And, the best part? Every participant volunteers, dedicating their own time, energy, and resources outside the classroom in order to compete.
The event is not like a traditional science fair where only students who win at the school level head to the district competition. Every applicant has a chance to participate. This year’s expo received 199 entries involving more than 300 STEM students.
STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering & Math—programs have arisen across the country in recent years. Programs typically commence during middle school years (6-8th grade). Their purpose is to encourage students to explore STEM-focused subjects and career paths. The hope is that this type of exploration at a young age sparks an interest that carries though high school and into the professional world.
As we, in the solar industry, have seen, there is a growing need for a science-based and tech-savvy workforce. The field of solar needs technicians and engineers who have strong backgrounds in math and science.
The ability to apply Ohm’s Law to calculate power, voltage, current, and resistance is critical to designing and installing a successful solar project. Not every technician can do this work. In addition, the industry needs engineers—to develop new and improved solar modules, inverters, and energy storage solutions—as well as skilled contractors to install small- and large-scale projects.
STEM programs like the one in Augusta County serve as a stepping stone into the solar workforce. STEM can spark the creativity needed to advance innovative fields like solar-powered energy. The district-wide competition awards fun prizes along with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners within each category and grade. The ultimate goal is to win “Best in Show.”
This year’s winners, Zoe Perry and Sophia Clark, created a clever device to throw away trash. Inspired by Rube Goldberg, their “Don’t Litter, It Makes the World Bitter” project devised a machine that will toss your trash. Their YouTube video will show you exactly how their invention works. The three-layer device depicts a beautiful creek with a waterfall, followed by a waterfall basin and marsh area, rounded out with an urban (“dirtier”) environment.
We, at Secure Futures, are grateful to have been invited to help judge this year’s STEM competition. The enthusiasm and creative inventions we saw at the expo give us hope for a sunny outlook in our industry. We look forward to supporting the STEM Expo for decades to come, and to recruiting future graduates!
— Laura Lambkin, Secure Futures Solar