Collinsville High School STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) students are part of the 2019-20 Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) STEM Challenge. The kickoff meeting was November 19, 2019 after school.
Throughout the school year, students will have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, engage in research and design, and develop solutions addressing an actual problem faced in industry today. Collinsville High School is one of 20 schools in Illinois participating in the Challenge – one of two schools south of Peoria.
As part of the Challenge, the CHS students will work with mentors from ISTI, Dynegy and Vistra Energy, along with STEM Club sponsors Pat Szpila and Cindy Bednara, to help solve a real world problem: Figure out how coal ash can be used to benefit communities.
Coal ash, a byproduct from coal-fired power plants, contains compounds that become environmental pollutants if not reclaimed or stored properly. Dealing with coal ash is an actual issue faced by Vistra Energy. Currently, options for reuse are limited. The students will work to find viable options for recovering metals found in coal ash and identify productive uses for the material.
Engineering teacher Cindy Bednara told the students their organizational, planning and teamwork skills will be as important as their scientific knowledge as they undertake the project. She also noted their recommendations must be financially viable – thus further providing real-life experience.
Dianna Tickner, Director of Decommissioning and Demolition for Vistra Energy, is a mentor for the CHS team. She explained how coal ash is formed and what happens as Vistra decommissions coal-fired energy plants. Tamika Cole, Business Development Manager for Dynegy Inc., is another mentor. She brings business acumen to the team.
The third mentor is Gordon Downey from Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. He told the students his job is to ask questions and prod them to consider various sides of their theories.
The CHS students on the STEM Challenge are: Max Laing, Jacob McChristian, Nathan Hay, Rebecca Davis, James Metcalf, Alex Stahnke, Ashlyn Carl, Nicholas Becker, Ethan Gardner, Kylie Baker, Jared Christopher and Dylan Phegley.
The students are excited to get “real world” experience in problem solving. Many are glad to have the opportunity to use this experience on college applications and in their future careers. CHS chemistry teacher Pat Szpila appreciates the opportunity for students to test their classroom knowledge in a meaningful way.
The STEM Challenge is not a competition among schools, but rather a showcase of student innovation. The students will present their project at Google headquarters in Chicago in April 2020.