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Wheatland Students Win National Competition with UW Backing

June 24, 2014
Students in competition team
Eighth-graders from Wheatland Middle School who won a national competition for future scientists and engineers donned University of Wyoming attire for the competition in Washington, D.C. From left are: front, Christian Moody and Haiden Moody; back, Joey Madsen, Miken Harnish (team adviser) and Jacob Stafford.

With support from the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, a team of Wheatland Middle School (WMS) eighth-graders has won a national competition for future scientists and engineers.

WMS students Joey Madsen, Haiden Moody, Christian Moody and Jacob Stafford -- advised by WMS science teacher Miken Harnish -- took first place in the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program’s 12th annual eCYBERMISSION competition. The students developed a system for converting school locker banks into safety zones to protect students and teachers during tornados.

UW engineering faculty members Jerry Hamann and Len Lutz helped the students prepare for the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“It’s exciting to see these students from Wyoming excel at such a high level nationally with such an original and innovative idea,” Hamann and Lutz say. “We’re delighted we were able be of assistance in enabling the team to reach the national competition, and we hope to see them continue their studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in high school -- and, eventually, here at UW.”

The eCYBERMISSION competition, administered by the National Science Teachers Association, cultivates student interest in the STEM disciplines by encouraging sixth- through ninth-graders to develop solutions to real-world challenges in their communities. The winning teams at those four grade levels were selected from more than 4,400 teams that entered the competition this year.

Each member of the WMS team received $5,000 in U.S. savings bonds, in addition to the $3,000 awarded to them for winning a regional competition.

The idea of using school lockers to create tornado safety zones in schools stemmed from a 2012 tornado drill at the school, when the students realized the need for improved safety measures. Upon observing that triangular structures formed by flat objects falling against walls or other objects provide protection from tornados, they fixed a set of five old lockers onto a sliding frame. The lockers can be pulled away from a wall and into a slanted position, creating a space big enough for several students during an emergency.

“The support and collaboration of the university’s engineering faculty members was extremely valuable for the students,” Harnish says. “We were proud to represent Wyoming and its university’s outstanding engineering school.”

The students are working to patent their shelter design for potential commercial development.


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