’Solving for Tomorrow’

Marquette a winner in Samsung technology competition

MARQUETTE — More emerging technology means more options, and a grant awarded to Marquette Area Public Schools should help students explore those options.

MAPS grant writer Sara Cambensy and Marquette Senior High School science teacher Rebecca Simmons have written a state-level winning grant in the nationwide Samsung “Solve for Tomorrow” competition.

The win entitles MAPS to receive a $25,000 package of Samsung technology to support their efforts, which are aimed at providing students the resources to study alternative energy, in this case, probably solar energy.

Considering the local importance of energy independence and the challenges of the Upper Peninsula’s remote location, the project’s vision is to help motivate students with hands-on learning opportunities, getting away from traditional learning methods like textbooks and films.

In MAPS’ case, it could involve setting up a small solar farm laboratory to show the energy solar generates and the costs it saves.

Simmons’s students already had expressed an interest in evolving energy.

“They really wanted to understand the changes in energy and, really, the same problems we’ve seen in the Upper Peninsula for the last 40 years,” Cambensy said.

And as they’re reading a lot about energy, they’re interested in what’s going on at the local level regarding utilities, said Cambensy, who pointed out the area has been relying on coal for its energy.

“Now that technology is changing, it gives us a lot more options in terms of where we get our energy from, how we want to set up more of a micro-grid here, which is not dependent on all of the transmission lines from Wisconsin or downstate,” said Cambensy, who stressed the importance of getting the students to understand how they can help the community be a role model in energy independence.

Students are studying, for instance, the solar garden that the Marquette Board of Light and Power is considering. In that vein, they’re looking at a small solar farm on the MSHS roof and having it connected into the school so they can learn about that type of energy, she said.

Michigan Energy Options, which is helping the BLP with its solar garden, is helping the students with that side of the project.

There’s lots to discover.

“This is going to be part of our future,” Cambensy said. “Track it and learn what’s efficient and how much we get in the winter versus the summer.”

Cambensy and Simmons were chosen among other entrants in Michigan for the initial Samsung grants. They next must submit a video by Feb. 14 that explains their vision. On or about Feb. 21, 10 finalists from the state will be chosen to receive $50,000 each and advance to the national finals. Three national winners will be awarded $150,000 each, among other prizes, with a $20,000 bonus for winning the Community Choice prize.

An authorized officer of the winning school, along with an entrant or teacher as well as two students, will be invited to the national finalist announcement scheduled for a location to be determined on or about March 20.

“If we’re chosen as one of the 10 finalists, it will be because of our video, and really, our goals that we hope to help solve in our community,” Cambensy said.

Another component of the next step is setting up a GoFundMe site that will earn money toward community outreach, she said.

Even if they don’t advance to the next level, the $25,000 will come in handy.

Most likely, the activities will take place in the MAPS Makerspace where students work on projects related to STEAM — Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Mathematics — education.

Simmons is director of Makerspace, an area of the high school set aside for STEAM.

A first-round prize was a Samsung Galaxy tablet, with a video production package also expected to arrive soon, she said.

Simmons also said solar energy probably will be the focus of the project — and more than just MAPS would benefit.

“We’re looking for students to kind of analyze data, learn about the situations that exist, the problems that exist, and help to come up with solutions that could work for MAPS, but really for the entire community — for business owners, for homeowners,” Simmons said.

Last year, when talking about the BLP’s new plan with her students, she detected a lot of interest.

“We had some really great discussions on both sides of that, and brought up some issues that may be obstacles for the community,” said Simmons, who noted they also talked about it being a better environmental choice.

“The kids still had tons of questions, which is kind of always like a red flag for a teacher, that this would make a great project because it’s something that they’re interested in,” Simmons said. “It feels pertinent. It feels like it relates to their lives and their families’ lives. There’s a money connection, which always makes people more interested.”

The grant is expected to be multi-faceted for the students, with getting STEAM experience crucial.

“Ultimately the goal is to help the students be interested in these real-life issues as they choose their career path going forward,” Cambensy said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.