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Imagine Tomorrow stimulates future problem-solvers

Article by Hope Belli Tinney, University Relations
Photos by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services
Students from the winning team from Tacoma School for the Arts
PULLMAN – Change Starts Now, an environmental awareness mentoring program for middle school students, was the grand prize winner in Saturday’s second annual Imagine Tomorrow competition.
More than 300 high school students in 89 teams from across the state of Washington competed in four challenge categories   — behavioral, technological, design, and multidisciplinary — to earn a share of the $106,000 in prize money put up by event sponsors including Bank of America, The Boeing Company, BP Cherry Point Refinery and Weyerhaeuser.
“This is not a science fair, this is a problem-solving fair,” said Miles Drake, senior vice president of research and development at Weyerhaeuser and the keynote speaker for the awards ceremony at Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum.
There is no silver bullet for the energy and environmental problems that face our country and the world, he said, and so it is important to explore many different ideas for new energy sources and new ways of doing things.
“The answer is going to come from all of the above,” he said.
WSU President Elson S. Floyd also addressed the students, telling them, “You are setting the pace — the dynamic — for a better and brighter future.”
Floating cities and LED lighting
Indeed, there was a plethora of ideas on display at Bohler Gymnasium during the all-day poster session. Students from Mt. Rainier High School in Des Moines were talking about the feasibility of a self-contained, carbon-neutral floating city. A few tables down, students from Cedarcrest High School in Duvall were making a strong case for using LED lights in your home instead of compact fluorescent bulbs. Students from Stanwood High School on Camino Island found inspiration close to home and were presenting their research on the feasibility of harnessing energy from pendulums set swinging by ocean waves.
Heritage High School team discusses their proposal on Bio Diesel Processing
 Corporations involved
“It’s a wonderful competition,” said Anson Fatland, a senior program officer with the Paul G. Allen Foundation and one of the competition judges. Impressed with many projects, he was having trouble making his final rankings. “I think everyone should get some kind of award just for being here,” he said.
Fatland, who works with science and technology initiatives and youth and education projects, said he was impressed by the caliber of the science on display and by the teamwork involved. “They are learning through doing and that’s the best way to learn,” he said.
Jim Coogan, a associate technical fellow with The Boeing Company and a competition judge, said he, too, was impressed by the quality of the projects. “At least three or four ideas need to have patent disclosures written on them,” he said, “and four or five (groups) need to write scientific papers.”
Don Shea, a human resource director for Weyerhaeuser, said he was inspired by the “creative, innovative, outside-the-box thinking” evident in the projects. Some of the ideas, he said, he hasn’t seen anywhere else. It was inspiring, he said, to see students so enthusiastic about and committed to saving the planet.
1,100 hours of preparation
Environmental issues was the impetus behind the grand prize entry from a group of students from the Tacoma School for the Arts. Calling their project Change Starts Now, the group created and taught a year-long curriculum on environmental awareness and sustainability to eighth grade students at Mason Middle School in Tacoma.
“We just decided that this is something that we needed to see happening,” said Isaac Solverson, 18. Many of them alumni of Mason Middle School, the group approached their former science teacher, Brent Beckstead, and proposed they create and teach lessons on Friday mornings during a time set aside for group projects at the Tacoma School for the Arts. He agreed, they met several times during the summer to plan, and in September they were off and running. During the course of the year, the group estimated they spent 1,100 hours preparing and planning the lessons.
“I would say 95 percent of the kids absolutely loved it,” said Beckstead. “What I really liked was the mentoring relationship. I thought it was far more powerful than anything that I could have done.”
Solverson agreed that the relationship between the high school students and middle school students was key. “The thing that’s most unique about our project is not the content,” he said, “it’s the way we’re teaching it.”
Even so, the content was well researched, said Beckstead, who described himself as fairly conservative in his outlook. “They presented the information so honestly and so fairly that I had no objections over anything they presented in class,” he said. Not only that, but the content matched up well with Washington’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) and Grade Level Expectations (GLEs).
Even though Solverson and three of the other group members are seniors and will be heading off to college next year, the fifth team member, Joe Holcomb, is a junior this year and will continue the project next year with four specially chosen new team members.
“Because we are so passionate about it, we want to see it continue,” said Jake Stortini. And, he said, there has already been a tangible result: 25 of their students from Mason Middle School applied to attend the Science and Math Institute (SAMI), a new magnet school in the Tacoma school system.
“I would venture to say that at least half would not have applied to SAMI had it not been for these boys and girls coming into our school,” said Beckstead.
Ballard High School team project: “Why go out when you can go up?”

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