When Wheeling High School participated in a STEM Challenge with Northrop Grumman for the first time, it did not take a traditional route.
Unlike most schools that have students with engineering, math and science backgrounds participate in the competition, Wheeling wanted to offer this experience to students who never envisioned themselves in STEM careers.
Administrators asked science teacher Frank Caballero to lead this effort and he enthusiastically accepted the challenge. The students ultimately captured second place and were given a special award for sportsmanship.
As part of the competition, students are asked to build a vehicle that can detect different wavelengths of light. Students then need to make decisions and act on those detections while communicating information to the judges.
The goal of the challenge is to help students understand the process that Northrop engineers go through in order to create new products for their customers.
With no road map or plan, Caballero engaged English Learners in their junior year who were taking a college-preparatory physics class. Frank innovated and found a way to build students’ skills in programming and engineering. These students had little to no experience with coding, engineering design, manufacturing, writing preliminary design reports or public speaking in a technical arena.
All the while, he worked with Northrop Grumman mentors to keep students’ confidence high and convince them that they could produce results.
On the day of the competition, the student piloting the vehicle went through the course in record time. The vehicle performed perfectly. Students later presented their work, impressing Northrop engineers, experts and others in attendance.
Along with taking second place, students were honored for sportsmanship. When another school’s vehicle failed its initial test, Wheeling students offered to let the other school take the Wheeling car and redesign it in order to compete.
“In the end, these students walked away with a sense of accomplishment to things that thought they were incapable of,” says Caballero. “They learned a great deal about the process of creating, designing, coding, building, presenting teamwork and most importantly, the belief in themselves.”