Connecting classroom learning with career possibilities

Invention and community are at the heart of the Ford STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) High School Community Challenge.

The Challenge focuses on students enrolled in career academies affiliated with Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL), the signature Ford Fund program transforming high schools in the United States and the United Kingdom. Ford NGL gives students opportunities to learn while doing in fields of their choice, such as engineering, manufacturing or healthcare. The Challenge enhances those efforts while also helping develop a pipeline of skilled technical talent.

Take for instance, this year’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd-prize winners that won $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. The students from Florida, Michigan and Texas, selected by a panel of Ford reviewers, used their ingenuity and creativity to develop high-impact solutions to real-life needs. The winning funds will help them implement their inventive solutions in the real world.

“The academy model, developed by Ford NGL, comes alive when students see the relevance of their school subjects in the context of a career,” said Cheryl Carrier, executive director of Ford NGL. “These challenges provide a valuable opportunity for students to work together, share ideas and develop creative solutions — enhancing their academics with soft skills highly valued by employers.”


Florida STEAM students capture Uncle Sam’s attention with emergency app

Teacher Becky Ling knew her team of students from the academies at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Fla., created a very special communication project for the Ford STEAM challenge for two mind-blowing reasons.

First, the team’s emergency response app, called the Text of Least Resistance (TOLR), won $20,000 as the 1st-place challenge winner. Second, their project initiated a call from the U.S. Government.

When disaster strikes, a phone call can be the difference between life and death. The loss of phone service is one of the most serious concerns facing first responders and people calling for help.

A high-ranking member of the Federal Communications Commission and graduate of Spruce Creek High School got wind of the TOLR project after reading an article about it in a Florida newspaper.

The FCC and Department of Homeland Security have been exploring innovative options to connect people during emergencies. To advance this important work, the government agencies contacted the Spruce Creek High School team.

The TOLR app uses Wi-Fi to bounce a text message from one idle phone to another until it reaches a phone with active cell service that can deliver a “Help me” distress call and potentially save lives. Or, the relayed message can simply let loved ones know, “I’m doing fine.”

“The whole idea is to keep people in contact. Anybody that has the app allows people to use their working phone in an emergency to hop a message,” said Justin Midkiff, a student at the Academy of Information Technology Robotics.


Michigan STEAM students use pedal power to generate electricity

When high school students get together or talk on the phone, you might think music, clothes or friends would be the topics of conversation. Academy students at the Utica Center for Science and Industry (CSI) in Sterling Heights, Mich., have those discussions, but they also think about ways to give to the community.

“We all work out, so we were thinking about gym equipment,” CSI student Lauren Crist said. “We created this gym bike that creates electricity as you pedal.”

CSI’s Project: Powerhouse earned a $10,000, 2nd-place grant. The project has the potential to reduce harmful resources used to produce electrical energy.

Instead, it would create clean, renewable energy. The students created a system for a variety of exercise equipment to harness and produce energy through a turbine. The energy could then be used to charge batteries, phones and a whole building, making it self-sustaining.

“We have a working prototype to do what we want and it’s fully functional,” CSI student Tom Fezzey said. “We added a gear system and an alternator, which generates electricity as you’re pedaling.” The students plan to add bells and whistles, such as a TV or the ability to charge a phone.


Texas STEAM students add juice to bottle recycling

There are few things more frustrating for a teenager than a cell phone with low battery power.

To avoid such a schoolhouse mishap, students in the Engineering Club at Harlingen South High School in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, came up with a two-pronged approach to charge phones and help the community.

They developed Pick Up & Charge Up. People who put a plastic bottle into a container for scanning and recycling get a small charge on their mobile phones.

“We started our project from scratch,” said Stephanie Torres, a Harlingen South student. “The challenge gave us the little boost we needed. It gave me the chance to do more hands on, so it piqued my interest."

The $5,000 3rd-place grant will allow the Harlingen South team to develop a solar energy-powered mobile charging station connected to recycle bins. Charging will be a reward for recycling. The team is working with a local company to turn their prototype into a functioning piece of equipment.

“They really stressed the importance of making connections in your community,” Harlingen South student Kristian Posada added. “Ford encouraging us to make connections allowed us to come out of our shells and make our ideas a reality.”

Changing the world one student at a time

“The idea of solving problems, taking ownership, being a leader and working with a team of like-minded individuals excites the kids,” said Prashant Javkar, manager of Ford STEAM Strategy and Programs. “Seeing that their peers are also interested in STEAM gives them a platform to find solutions for the community.”

Ford Fund — the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company — invests more than $18 million each year in education programs that help create individual and community prosperity.