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STEM Contest Keeps Students Engaged During Pandemic

Posted: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In any normal year students would flock to STEM competitions, looking for opportunities to keep their minds growing. From science and history bowls, to robotics competitions and math challenges, COVID-19 dramatically limited their ability to compete.
When parents and students found the Chowdhury STEM Innovation Contest, the flexible format immediately resonated. Other STEM competitions were either too restrictive, requiring all students to be in the same grade, or transitioned to a completely virtual format which didn’t allow students to engage in the same way they could through the Chowdhury contest.
The moment school counselor Cindy Caliguire's student heard about the STEM competition, he immediately got to work—even before he had an official team. “He was busy creating before I even became the team’s mentor. He started researching ideas and reaching out to classmates, one who was really good at coding and another who was good at art,” said Cindy. “I was really excited to see them come together as a team. They didn’t always agree, but they figured it out. I was so impressed,” she added.
Team dynamics also impressed parent and Chowdhury mentor Melody Colebrook-Jones. Even though students on her son’s team already knew each other somewhat through school, they were in different grades and hadn’t previously competed together in a STEM competition. It took them awhile to determine their roles and how they wanted to contribute. When they would get stuck the youngest member of their team, a fourth grader, would help keep things moving. “He really stepped up. He was not only the youngest member of our team, but he was also the newest,” Melody explained.
For both teams, the chance to find a solution for a real-world problem was also a big motivator and something that will likely stay with them for years to come. Through their involvement in the Chowdhury STEM competition, their teams were able to designate a non-profit to receive a donation—connecting their projects directly to a bigger cause and making a real difference.
Cindy’s team was contacted directly by the president of The Coral Reef Alliance, the organization they selected, and they are currently discussing the possibility of presenting their project to share what they’ve learned.
Melody’s team reached out to United Communities Against Poverty, Inc. (UCAP), the non-profit they selected for their donation, and organized a STEM showcase for the children they serve with their Chowdhury team sharing their drones, Lego builds, iPads, and other technology. When they learned the UCAP shelter wasn’t accepting any more book donations, one of students pulled two books from his bookcase at home and presented them to a member of their staff and said "I know you said you had enough books, but these are books that teach kids how to draw, step by step, and I don't think you have these books already." She smiled and said, "You're right!", while gladly accepting the books.
Their advice for teams competing in the next Chowdhury STEM Competition focuses on five key areas:

  1. Define your purpose. Choose an issue you truly care about. Ideas are all around you, including at home, at school, and in your community.
  2. Be resourceful. Look for ways to use the tools and information you might already have at your disposal. If you have access to a particular program through your school or local library, start there. You can also access additional STEM contest ideas and resources.
  3. Maximize your time. Whether virtual or in-person, look for opportunities for the team to meet around any existing meetings, including those for other class projects or STEM contests.
  4. Play to your team’s strengths. Think about what skills you will need and who you might already know with different perspectives. Don’t limit yourself to students in your grade, you can have teammates in grades four–eight with the Chowdhury contest.
  5. Have fun! The potential prizes and non-profit donations are great, but ultimately this is a chance to spend time with your mentor and teammates. Enjoy it.

Good luck to all of the teams participating in the 2022 Chowdhury STEM Innovation Contest!