STEM Academy students at Spokane Valley Tech showed off some of their engineering projects and prototype designs last week as part of a Community Connections event hosted by the Central Valley School District.
The events are held every year, said district spokeswoman Marla Nunberg. “The biggest goal is inviting the community into our schools,” she said. “We want people to know what’s going on in our schools and our classrooms. It’s nice to be able to showcase what is going on.”
The STEM Academy program is now a fully accredited high school separate from Spokane Valley Tech and will graduate its first class of seniors this school year, Nunberg said. The goal is to prepare students for STEM careers in health care, engineering and computer science.
A group of four students presented a model of a car’s center console designed for the busy professional on the go. It included file storage, cup holders, a laptop charging port, hot and cold food storage and a removable trash receptacle. Students were given just over three hours to complete the project and made their prototype out of cardboard.
Students Davis Desgrosellier and Conrad Knapp talked about their yearlong project to design a device to help people with carpal tunnel operate a car’s emergency brake without pain. “We didn’t want to replace anything,” said Desgrosellier. “We just wanted to add something small.”
They described how they experimented with various designs. They wanted the end result to be inexpensive and not get in the way of normal driving. They found success with their fourth prototype, a lever which reduced the amount of force needed to depress the button that releases the emergency brake by 60 percent.
“When you actually use the device it feels like you’re not doing anything at all,” he said.
Knapp said he appreciates attending a project-based school that gave them plenty of time to create something useful. “It gives you the space to be creative,” he said.
Knapp said he doesn’t like being confined to a chair and learning from a book. He likes being able to get up and move around and do hands-on work. “It gives you the space to breathe and learn the way you need,” he said.
Students Kiara Jenkins and Chloe Moore discussed their project to make an effective water filter. The challenge was to remove solids, raise the pH level of the water, remove as many nitrates as possible and decrease the amount of iron.
Their first attempt used alum to separate out the solids in addition to filtering the water. “That didn’t happen,” Jenkins said. “It was less than satisfactory.”
They used what they learned to try a second time, using charcoal and coffee filters along with layers of sand and cotton balls to filter the water. They added baking soda at the beginning of the process to raise the pH levels.
The result was water with no nitrates or iron and with a high enough pH to be drinkable. “Our water was much clearer,” Moore said.
The dozens of people who gathered for the event asked the students questions after each presentation. One asked Moore and Jenkins if their water filter would work in third world countries.
“It’s a one-time use,” said Moore. “You can’t reuse it.”
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