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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sacajawea STEM program honored in national competition

They’re not resting on their laurels in Kim Taylor’s advanced engineering class at Sacajawea Middle School.

Instead they’re making life easier for everyone else, from FBI agents to sick children – no wonder they’re being honored in a national competition.

Along with four other schools in Washington and 300 nationwide, Sacajawea’s STEM program was cited in the 10th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest for its ability to “solve complicated issues that affect their communities by using STEM learning.”

Taylor’s students did that and more. Last spring, they were tasked by the FBI and local law enforcement with crafting devices to improve the performance of a remotely controlled robot as it investigated a suspected bomb site.

The robots are functional but obsolete and lacked the right “grip” to open some door handles – that is, until Taylor’s class used its 3D printers to find a solution.

The plastic gloves designed at Sacajawea will extend the robot’s life, and by extension, the law enforcement budget in Spokane County.

The work continued this fall.

On Wednesday, Claire Miller was doing an especially important project for the FBI, which sometimes must deal with suspicious packages left at airports.

With 3D printers, Miller and fellow student Mayley Andruss built special clips and plastic tubes that will hold together an X-ray panel that a robot might use to examine that package.

With more fine-tuning, they will allow the robot to take those X-ray images from different angles.

A few minutes later, Miller moved to a computer screen to show another of her creations: a specially crafted corner table protector that will ease the pain when children bump their head at the Ronald McDonald House.

Another computer screen showed an image of a plastic doorstop, another unique STEM creation destined for the Ronald McDonald house.

“I said everything is a go, so they went for it,” Taylor said, noting that the table protectors use rubberized filament to soften the blow when kids run into them.

However, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) isn’t all sharp ends and precise calculations.

In the same room, other students were using the lathes and other woodworking tools that date from the opening of the school in the late 1950s.

Holding a board in one hand and an electric sander in the other, Justin Gribov was building a frame for a ring-toss game for children at the Ronald McDonald House.

The clever design is his own.

“Then we can assign points to each ring – and the first person to 100 points wins,” Gribov said.

In the far room, classmate Rip Sherwood held up a sturdy oak panel, curved and stained. Not long from now, it will serve as a seat for a scooter – complete with two pairs of rear wheels that will hold tumbling golf balls for amusement.

STEM also has a soft side.

In one corner, Lilia Nicholson was crafting a special book for the kids at the Ronald McDonald House. Every page is a tactile joy to behold, with fuzzy animal faces and welcome messages.

Her goal was simple: “To make someone smile,” said Nicholson, who plans to spread the joy with a Spanish-language version after the English version is complete.

Taylor was smiling too – at the creations fashioned by inspiration and hard work.

“It’s very exciting,” she said of the Samsung competition. “But it’s about starting that ripple, and hopefully it will pick other people up and what to join (STEM programs).”

“That’s my big thing,” Taylor said. “It’s 100% about the kids because I want them to have this experience, whether or not they go to college, to be able to say ‘Hey, I did this.’ ”

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