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High school students compete in ‘Frontiers in Design’ competition

A group 13 people, adults and teens, at the "Frontiers in Design" competition pose for a group photo.

Annette Sobel, along with the participants and judges of the “Frontiers in Design” competition pose for a group photo.

Getting kids excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — or STEM, as the national initiative to point students in the direction of technological innovation has become known — is a high priority for Annette Sobel, M.D. A large portion of this country’s recent economic growth is connected to the acronym’s topics.

As a volunteer, Sobel, who now serves as assistant to the provost for strategic opportunities and as an adjunct professor in electrical and computer engineering at MU, has spoken to high school students and scout groups about the importance of innovation and the STEM fields. Her position at MU has given her the opportunity to take those initiatives to a more experiential level.

“I’ve been an advisor to the university’s biodesign program and started thinking about making something like that available to high school students,” Sobel said.

Each year, MU’s Biodesign and Innovation Program (MUBIP) builds a team of fellows consisting of a surgeon, an engineer and a business professional that identifies a surgical deficiency, innovates a product solution and then devises a marketing plan with the intention of taking the new technology to market. Sobel thought the MUBIP basic model was appropriate for high school students and worked with the Weizman Institute of Science to develop a program.

In 2010, she secured funding for the “Frontiers in Design” competition from the Fred V. and Dorothy H. Heinkel Charitable Foundation and State Farm Insurance. With the help of Beth Fisher, her office coordinator, she set to work to make it a reality, working through Columbia Public School (CPS) Practical Arts Coordinator Craig Adams.

Sobel enlisted the help of the eMINTS National Center at MU to set up the program for the teachers who would be involved. eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) helps teachers integrate technology into their teaching and promotes inquiry-based learning.

“We worked with teachers from Columbia Public Schools to create an online unit called a WebQuest, which stepped the students through the design process, from originating their concept to developing a prototype,” said eMINTS program coordinator Michelle Kendrick. “The unit involved the biology of the cardiovascular system, the engineering design process and the entrepreneurial aspects of market research and promotion.”

Adams, who teaches pre-engineering for CPS, presented the program and the engineering process to his class and three “teams” — one team was an individual effort — took up the challenge to solve a biomedical problem with a scientific, engineering and business solution.

The Frontiers in Design contest tasked students with devising a better solution to what currently exists to treat thrombosis (a blood clot) in a vein or artery.

Columbia school system has a small rapid prototype machine on which students could model their solutions. In preparation, the entire class was treated to a tour of MU Engineering’s prototype lab, which features industry-standard equipment.

On April 19, Adams and the three teams traveled to MU to present their solutions to a team of judges consisting of science, medicine, engineering and business experts. The projects and presentations were judged on their scientific merit, creativity and originality, the communication of the competition theme and adherence to competition ground rules.

A teenage male holds a tennis racket flat with his hand over it, having just dropped pingpong balls on it.

Hickman High School Sophomore Thomas Ziervogel demonstrates how a tennis racket served as the inspiration for a filter he designed for the “Frontiers in Design” competition. Ziervogel’s presentation would later win the competition.

Hickman sophomore Thomas Ziervogel presented a solo effort that he called the “tennis racket filter” to win the competition. His device, inserted in to a vein or artery and held in place with hooks, consisted of webbing or netting that would allow blood to flow through but would trap clots. The webbing would be coated with chemicals that would break down the proteins that bind the clot together, and the webbing itself would eventually be absorbed into the body.

The two additional teams consisted of Rockbridge sophomores, one with students Dustin Mikesell and Tyler Staals, and the other made up of Carter Gerling, Julian Montano and Andrew Buddemeyer.

Judges, essentially posing as investors in the students’ technologies, asked very tough questions of the teams, just as venture capitalists might in a real-world situation. At the close of the completion, the judging team praised students’ efforts, observing that the participants had taken a risk that their peers had not and that they were one step closer to successfully competing in future biodesign projects.

“It was good for my students,” Adams said. “Pitching an idea like this takes some nerve. The students found out that you’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be professional and you need to back your idea.”

Adams said that CPS is planning a STEM Olympics next year and that he’d like to try the model with middle school students

State Farm representatives at the competition also were pleased with the results.

“State Farm’s mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams,” said Ryan Kenney, an agency sales leader for the company who viewed the presentations with State Farm agent Greg Hill. “We have a long-standing commitment to education and were glad to help out.”

Sobel also conducted the Frontiers in Design contest in the St. Joseph Public Schools, and has plans to work with Missouri’s Great Rivers Boy Scout Council on STEM education initiatives.

“It’s the convergence of business and education. Applying science to real world problems is an economic driver. It’s what makes America great,” she said.



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