It’s truly incredible what young people are capable of when given an opportunity to think outside the box and create real-world plans for real-world problems. It is the crux of our mission to ASA: to increase access to highly engaging career readiness learning experiences that foster students' understanding of postsecondary education and career pathways.
That’s exactly what we’ve seen in this year’s ASA Solve Together Challenge, a national competition designed to encourage career exploration and skill-building for middle school students in the classroom and out-of-school learners through project-based learning and teamwork. Participants could choose from four timely topics for their projects: Public Health, Climate Change, Colonizing Mars, and a Passion Project, based on an issue they care about.
Organized in partnership with the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), ASA Solve Together enables educators for grades 7-9 to easily embed career exploration and 21st-century skill development in their classrooms.
We were so impressed with the educator-led submissions in last year’s inaugural Challenge that we decided to expand this year’s contest to learners outside of the classroom in addition to the in-class group projects — and the submissions did not disappoint!
On May 19, we held an award ceremony to celebrate the winners of ASA Solve Together 2.0. There were a total of six groups announced as winners, spanning both the in-class and out-of-school participants. To kick off the ceremony, we brought on last year’s first place winners, the Galactic Girls from Plouffe Academy in Brockton, MA. The girls were quick to share their enthusiasm for the Challenge and the opportunities that have arisen from their win:
“Because of this incredible contest, during the past year we’ve been interviewed about our win and our love for science by numbers of news stations and reporters,” said one of the girls. “Our message to you is to not give up on your wildest dreams, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do them,” she continued.
Here’s a look at this year’s winners and their exciting entries:
First Place, Franklin Avenue Middle School (Franklin Lakes, New Jersey): A team of seventh grade science students, who call themselves Team Passion Project, created a prototype and blueprint to enhance the transportation systems with the help of their teacher Alyssa McAloney, after learning that transportation conditions are a leading cause for a declining bee population. As part of their winning submission, they also interviewed a current bee transporter and an agricultural professor from Cornell University. Franklin Avenue Middle School was awarded $10,000, and the team of students won $1,500.
Michael of Team Passion Project noted the power of collaboration that came from participating in the Challenge: “We enjoyed being able to work as a group and connect to each other and learn from experts and other beekeepers.”
Second Place, Wydown Middle School (Clayton, Missouri): A team of eighth grade students called the Magnificent Meteorites developed a solution to utilize the LaGrange points on Mars with the help of their teacher, Frankie Synovec. This was designed to assist with the transportation to and from Mars, which illustrated a clear understanding of the challenge and creative use of research and problem-solving. Wydown Middle School was awarded $5,000, with an additional $1,000 going to the winning team of students.
Magnificent Meteorite Sam said: “We definitely were not the most focused or knowledgeable at first. However, after we pushed through, our creativity was something that differentiated us from the others!”
Third Place Winner, Alvarado Intermediate School (Rowland Heights, California): A team of eighth grade English students, called the Bright Teletubbies, developed a four-pronged approach to deliver support to boost mental health after the COVID-19 pandemic, and used each Teletubby to represent each proposed solution with the help of teacher Rachel Jung. The school was awarded $2,500, with an additional $500 going to the team of students to split. (Fun fact: A student team that Jung supported at her former school also won third place in the inaugural 2021 ASA Solve Together competition!)
One of the Bright Teletubbies, Doris, highlighted the teamwork skills she and her team honed during their project: “We would have never accomplished this journey without each other. To us, we are not just people that completed a project together, but teammates that walked side by side through this journey,” she said of her team’s experience.
First Place Out-of-School Learner (Washington): A group of teens, known as Mr. Sinnfanclub, including Emma McGee, Evelyn Luippold, Kincaide Wilborn, Tiv Snow, and Mira Nimura-Parmenter, produced a podcast with characters representing different opinions about how to best create a society on Mars, based on their careers (e.g., mayor, professor, and attorney). The team was awarded $1,500.
Mira of Team Mr. Sinnfanclub said of the experience: “This project provided not only valuable learning, but was very enjoyable. And I truly appreciate the ASA organization, because it is centered around listening to the youth which is much needed in our world!”
Second Place Out-of-School Learner (California): A team of teens known as Ironpeople, led by Gabe Cooper, created a supplement for people with iron deficiency, complete with profit margins and distribution processes. Ironpeople received a prize of $1,000.
Third Place Out-of-School Learner (Washington): A team of teens known as Pollution Patrol, led by Carsyn Stolz and Kashton Korsmo, took on the point of view of an environmental lawyer to help in discussing the variety of solutions and barriers they presented. of an environmental lawyer to help in discussing the variety of solutions and barriers they presented. The team was awarded $500.
In addition to these incredible winners, we’re pleased to acknowledge three participants that earned recognition as honorable mentions for their innovative approaches:
Most Advanced 3D Model, West Hollow Middle School (Melville, New York): A team of ninth grade STEM students known as Team CAMI, with the help of their teacher, Chris Regini, designed a system that would be capable of growing various foods autonomously in an outer space.
Most Well Researched, Marple Newtown High School (Newtown Square, Pennsylvania): A team of ninth grade science students known as MarsLand, with the guidance of their teacher, Brian Isselmann, presented a proposal to utilize compost, LED grow lights, and water gathered from Mars’ natural ice formations, to grow the necessary plants for survival.
“The kids got so much out of this project, and I think we as teachers got a lot of it, too,” said Mr. Isselmann.
Finally, we congratulate middle school teacher Alicia Ray from Meadowview Magnet Middle School in Mount Airy, North Carolina, who was recognized with the ASA Solve Together Educator Award of $1,000 for her work in engaging students across 27 teams to participate in various challenges.
Alicia said of the Challenge: “It was inspiring to see the students really come alive and get excited about it, and come in in the morning and ask me, ‘Can we work on this?’ They really rocked this out!”
We can’t thank our participants enough for their contributions to ASA Solve Together 2.0! It was no easy task to choose winners, as all of the submissions were beyond impressive. Career exploration competitions like this highlight just how much young people are capable of when given the opportunity to really think and problem-solve.
Getting these wheels turning in middle and high school is a fantastic way to help students think about what they desire for the future — both for themselves and for the world.