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STEM Engineering Challenge Rewards Creative Thinking

Winning water cooler design for the Chevron Engineering Design Challenge

The competition's winning design was inspired by vintage soda machines.

Earlier this month, a team of juniors from Santana High School in San Diego took home the top prize in the Chevron Engineering Design Challenge, an annual statewide engineering competition in California, hosted in concert with Project Lead The Way, which offers STEM curricular programs.

The students, twins Kyle and Trevor Holmquist and Brandon Killian, each took home a laptop along with the top title. Previously, they each won an iPad for winning their regional bout.

The competition asked students to engineer a unique product in a matter of hours based on a design brief. In the final event, which brought together regional winners from around the state, teams were asked to design a water cooler that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. A total of 65 teams had entered from 48 high schools across California.

In the final, teams were given two hours to sketch an idea and then another two hours to sketch their plan using Autodesk Inventor, a 3D mechanical design program. Afterward, each team gave a short Powerpoint presentation on their project.

"We had the idea of making it like a vintage Coke machine where you can see your Cokes and it will actually dispense," said Trevor Holmquist.

The team, which named themselves the Sultans of Santana, was supported by a teacher coach, who was unable to assist them during the actual competition, but helped instruct them on what to touch on during presentations and the intricacies of technical drawings.

The trio has entered a number of similar STEM-focused competitions over the past few years, including Skills USA and FIRST Robotics. "We all want to be mechanical engineers," Kyle Holmquist said of the team. "We all have our hearts set on Cal-Poly."

According to Janet Auer, specialist, global partnerships and programs at Chevron, competitions like the Engineering Design Challenge are crucial to engage students in STEM subjects.

The competitions "embed pride, teamwork and a sense of school loyalty into engineering design in a way that parallels high school sports teams and games," she said. "Most importantly, they provide kids with exposure to real-life engineers and an opportunity to picture themselves in the future."

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.