Smethport Students Win State STEM Challenge

Smethport Area School District – Middle school students Andrew Benson, Zadoc Angell, Thomas Wolosewicz and Wyatt Hungiville brought a first-place finish home to Smethport from the state STEM Design Challenge held recently at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg.

Farmers, much like every other industry, are increasingly turning toward technology to operate more efficiently. Agriculture is a $132.5 billion industry in Pennsylvania, supporting nearly 600,000 jobs paying close to $33 billion in wages.

Sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific, this year’s STEM Design Challenge tasked students to help Pennsylvania farmers by creating a robot or other type of high-tech farming equipment for them to use.

Across the commonwealth in 2024, 26 intermediate units offered a regional STEM Design Challenge hosting a total of 925 teams – 547 in the elementary division and 378 in the middle school division — comprising approximately 3,700 students.

Teams of two to four students are challenged to create a prototype using a maximum of 1,400 K’Nex pieces and at least one motor. Students maintain and submit a journal of their progress from project start to finish, including elements of the engineering design process, as well as a blueprint such as a CAD drawing.

First-place teams from regional events advance to present their challenge answers to state judges in a presentation of 2 minutes or less. Every team member must be a part of the presentation and be prepared to answer questions from judges.

The projects were then judged on creativity, teamwork, challenge success, design and presentation.

Smethport’s Rural Revitalizers developed a vertical farming greenhouse that topped 23 other middle school team submissions for first place.

The Hubbers’ greenhouse design was “centered on implementing vertical farming solutions into Pennsylvania farms … which will enable us to produce more crops within a smaller horizontal area,” students said during their presentation.

Their design incorporated state-of-the-art technology for efficient and effective system monitoring, including custom advanced intelligence (AI) providing 24/7 support, AI-powered robots patrolling the greenhouse and soil using sensors and tracks for mobility to plant seeds and alert on-site farmers of any issues.

Kelly Tarbox, team advisor and SASD gifted support teacher, said, “A competition like this offers an invaluable opportunity for students to apply learning in a real-world context. It’s rewarding to witness the dedication and hard work these students put into their project.”

Students launched their projects in February and competed at the regional level in March. They tweaked and fine-tuned their design prior to this month’s state competition.

Tarbox guided her students through the project and challenged their ideas for improvement along the way. She said that while Smethport has had groups win at the regional level and advance, the Hubbers have never before had a team place at the state competition.

Greg Macer at Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 serves as regional coordinator for the challenge.

“Congratulations to all the participants for their hard work and dedication,” Smethport school officials said in their Facebook post about the first-place finish. “We are so proud of their achievement!”