When organizations like Newsweek, College Board, and Siemens take notice of a STEM program, you know you’ve got something special. But when students begin winning global awards for developing real-world solutions based on what they’ve learned in class, you know you’ve got something truly remarkable! Such is the case with Fairmont Prep’s Advanced Science and Engineering Program (ASEP) and its exceptional students. Recently, two groups of ASEP students were honored by Engineering World Health (EWH) with first and third-place finishes in their GLOBAL bioengineering competition! After spending countless hours meeting during lunchtime and after school with ASEP Director Mrs. Jaya Leslie, enlisting the help of senior ASEP students, and working on their competition projects while balancing AP and IB tests along with final exams, these teams managed to produce what EWH judged to be two extremely compelling low-cost, low-resource biomedical solutions for improving healthcare delivery in the developing world. EWH presented students with four different challenges from which to choose for their projects.
“The decision of which challenge to take on was the students’ alone,” said Mrs. Leslie. It was very rewarding to watch the teams toss the ideas around and land on something that truly resonated with each of them.”
With the devastating effects of COVID still fresh in their minds, the Husky Innovate team was intrigued by the opportunity to develop a low-cost, low-resource solution that would allow for safe delivery of oxygen tanks to hospitals in rural Uganda. The Huskyvation Team was particularly drawn to the need for providing sustainable supplies of distilled water to rural medical facilities in the Dominican Republic in order to protect against fatal surgical infections that can result from improperly sterilized equipment and instruments. After selecting their respective challenges, the teams got to work – doing research, meeting with ASEP mentors, consulting with experts in the field, and accessing resources from a whole host of sources, including those made available to them through EWH. The competition spanned roughly two months, the first of which was spent developing a plan and submitting a written proposal and preliminary design. The second month focused on creating a final submission, in the form of a video, which presented the teams’ solutions to these real-world challenges. Mrs. Leslie reflected upon the genesis of the oxygen tank project. “The students would come in after school and at lunch, and throw out ideas. They recognized that they needed to look at a tank, in person, to truly understand the problem – they needed to be able to see it, feel it, visualize it. We couldn’t go to an oxygen tank facility because they were still under COVID restrictions. But we knew that we had a helium tank on campus, so the kids used that as their launchpad for a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis.” Ultimately, the Husky Innovate team took first place for their design of a dual-cap valve protection for securing oxygen tanks for safe delivery. Considering various applications, the team – which was composed of sophomores and juniors who had taken/are currently taking the ASEP Bioengineering course – identified the valve as a point of weakness that needed to be addressed. According to EWH, “Their design, which includes two cube-shaped caps at the end of each tank, also increases the efficiency of transportation, increasing the number of tanks that a truck can safely transport. Each set of caps also features a ball and socket fastening mechanism to fix tanks together, minimizing movement during transport.” Meanwhile, the Huskyvation team took home the third place global award – finishing a mere point behind their Prep peers – for their design of a low-cost multi-effect basin still for water distillation. Their solution focused on a two-part evaporation process (solar radiation and energy transfer from combustion), followed by condensing the water in a second chamber where it would be free of soluble materials, heavy metals, most organic compounds, and biological contaminants. “Entering science and engineering competitions is really valuable because it affords students the opportunity to apply the things they learn in the classroom – beyond what’s in the textbook – in very meaningful ways,” said Ms. Carolyn Lucia, Head of School at Fairmont Prep and Managing Director of Campuses for Fairmont Schools. Mrs. Leslie wholeheartedly agrees, which is why she has encouraged her students to participate in hands-on STEM competitions for over a decade. 2022 marked the inaugural year for EWH’s high school design challenge. It was modeled after the organization’s long-running, highly successful college competition that attracts some of the world’s top universities, including this year’s first and second place winners, Cornell University and Duke University. “I think that Fairmont provides opportunities for students that they wouldn’t get at other places,” said Mrs. Leslie. “We create ecosystems for them to be able to push themselves beyond what they may think they can do; to achieve more than they think they might be able to achieve. We teach them how to take safe risks, be adventurous, and not be afraid of failing. They grow to understand that they will never succeed if they don’t try.” Please enjoy this brief video which celebrates our amazing ASEP students and their accomplishments.