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Students, Companies Discuss Benefits of STEM Competitions

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones 

At an online town hall, held this week by STEMconnector, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education resource, a group of companies and students discussed the ways competitions engage students and encourage them to pursue STEM fields. 

Speakers included representatives from the Seimens Foundation, The Real World Design Challenge, Intel, DuPont, Northrop Grumman, and the Verizon Foundation, as well as students who participated in the competitions. The event was sponsored by Skild, a provider of online contest-management software.

David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation, explained that his company started its science competition to get students thinking about STEM career options, especially in light of the United States' lackluster rankings in math and science education internationally. The competitions allow students to explore a wide variety of STEM subjects—everything from aircraft design to cyber security.  

Additionally, high school student Roshni Sethi talked about her participation in DuPont's Challenge Science Essay Competition, saying it helped her to express her passion for science through writing and to develop her ability to communicate that passion to others. "I've definitely become more interested in the field of cardiology," said Sethi. "I think I've found the thing I want to do with the rest of my life." 

High school student Courtney Thurston, who participated in the PTC Real World Design Challenge, said the competition led to her decision to pursue a career in aerospace engineering. The systems-engineering knowledge she learned through the competition, she said, was "not something you get to learn in school usually. In school, it's just quizzes and tests and homework assignments. You're never working with large-scale projects like in this competition."

Through the Verizon Foundation 2013 competition, a group of 8th grade students created the Chow Checker app, which allows users with allergies to check whether certain packaged foods are safe for them to consume.

Katherine Bomkamp, who participated in Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in high school, explained at the town hall that she invented a holistic prosthetic device to eliminate phantom limb pain. She now has two patents to her name.

For more on STEM competitions, see this Education Week article on how teachers are incorporating them into day-to-day classroom instruction and our coverage of how these competitions are cropping up in video-game form as well. 

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