LEESBURG, Va. (June 30, 2016) -- The annual eCYBERMISSION National Judging and Educational Event is always brimming with high-energy, especially when the winning teams are announced at the National Awards Luncheon, held here June 24.
The fanfare is richly deserved, as the four winning teams are judged the nation's best entries in a year-long, web-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition that is free to students in grades six through nine.
Also in the limelight are the contributions of the science teachers who deliver their students to success as team advisors.
"It all about the kids, really," said Laura Wilbanks, a fourth and fifth grade science teacher from the tiny town of Whiteface, Texas (population 430). Wilbanks has led a team to the eCYBERMISSION national finals 11 times, beginning in 2003 when eCYBERMISSION was in its second year.
"The kids make all of the decisions about their projects," Wilbanks said. "I usually only get involved if they don't see the big picture, if they don't see larger, national implications of their project."
Her winning seventh grade team this year featured team members Elizabeth Casarez, Kaden Moses, Blade Henry and Kaylah Deavours. Their project, called "Silver Bullet," looked for cost-effective ways to heal wounds in a world with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Their results identified colloidal silver as the material with the largest zone of inhibition and greatest ability to fight bacteria.
Since 2012, the National Science Teachers Association has partnered with the Army Educational Outreach Program to administer eCYBERMISSION. It is a partnership not lost on the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's AEOP Cooperative Agreement Manager Louie Lopez. RDECOM manages the execution of AEOP on behalf of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology and the Army S&T community.
"The eCYBERMISSION program experienced incredible growth since NSTA became partners," Lopez said prior to the awards luncheon at the National Conference Center. "When they came onboard they brought their network of science teachers with them, and every year since we've seen the program grow. The collaboration among the Army, our consortium partners within academia, industry and not-for-profit organizations, our scientists and engineers who serve as judges and mentors, and the science teachers in the NSTA has provided a great deal of momentum to the program."
This year, 5,768 teams and 23,323 students from 52 states and territories vied for eCYBERMISSION honors. Lopez said these numbers will continue to grow with NSTA and other agency support and involvement.
Eighty-six students on 23 teams were national finalists or STEM-In-Action grant winners. Finalist teams represented 15 states, including a first-ever team from Montana, a first-time team from Puerto Rico, and the first team from Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China.
The Puerto Rican team, affectionately named "Las Chicas de Puerto Rico," from Ramey School in Aguadilla, captured first place for sixth grade teams. Team members Bria Roettger, Janat Khan, Janeliz Guzman Acevedo and Luz Figueroa-Rodriguez investigated the effects of Saharan dust levels on local respiratory issues and how to create an effective warning system for people who suffer from asthma in Puerto Rico. Their team advisor is Ingrid Rapatz-Roettger.
The eighth grade winners were "Artemis" from the Academic Center of Science in Frisco, Texas. Artemis team members Sonya Ganeshram, Ashwin Koduri and Rushil Chander developed a new safety device for the hearing-impaired to help notify a user of dangers. Artemis' team advisor is Bhagyashri Chander.
"Myto-Critters," from Taos Middle/High School, Taos, New Mexico, were ninth grade winners. Team members Sierra Ferguson, Ashley Martinez and Zachary Ginn investigated the impact of antibiotics on mitochondrial function and health in comparison to natural antibiotics. Their team advisor is Laura Tenorio.
Jennifer Roberts, a sixth and eighth grade science educator at Coral Springs Middle School in Coral Springs, Florida, was named eCYBERMISSION Team Advisor of the Year. Roberts encouraged all the science teachers at Coral Springs Middle School to adopt eCYBERMISSION into their curriculum, allowing all students the opportunity to participate. For the past three years, her teams have been STEM-In-Action grant recipients. In 2012, Mrs. Roberts was an eCYBERMISSION Roundtable participant where she helped develop some of the curriculum along with other educators from various states and grade levels. Since 2002, Roberts has implemented the eCYBERMISSION program into her curriculum and has served as a team advisor to six winning teams.
Erica Bertoli, from the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, was named eCYBERMISSION Virtual Judge of the Year. Bertoli serves as team lead for CERDEC's Educational Outreach Program where she leads a year-round STEM program serving 8,000 students across Harford and Cecil counties in Maryland. Bertoli was recognized for her efforts in reviewing 122 eCYBERMISSION Mission Folders as well as encouraging fellow virtual judges throughout CERDEC. She also served as emcee for the National Showcase and Awards Luncheon at this year's NJEE.
Kurt Metcalf from the Army Corps of Engineers was named Ambassador of the Year. Metcalf serves as the National Program Manager for the Employment and Compensation Division, leading USACE policy development in the areas of Pathways student intern programs, Wounded Warrior/Veteran programs, Corporate Outreach and Recruitment, Overseas Employment initiatives and STEM outreach.
The CyberGuide of the Year award was presented to Melissa Roth, who was unable to attend the luncheon. Roth is a research engineer at Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and is currently working on creating flame-retardant uniforms and on new helmet materials to protect Soldiers against head injuries. Her recognition stems from her efforts during eCYBERMISSION Team Talk and Live CyberGuide Chats.
CERDEC was also recognized as the outstanding organization volunteer awardee. CERDEC Technical Director Henry Muller accepted the award from Jeffrey Singleton, Director for Basic Research, Office of the Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics & Technology).
Singleton also presented the STEM-in-Action awards to five teams: "Styro-Filter," an eighth grade team from Gahanna Middle School East, Gahanna, Ohio; "Power Play," an eighth grade team from Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, Maine; "Baby cAir," a ninth grade team from Shanghai American School, Shanghai, China; "Envo," a sixth grade team from Randall G. Lynch Middle School in Farmington, Arkansas.; and "Rocky Run," an eighth grade team from Rocky Run Middle School, Chantilly, Virginia.
"There are few programs of the magnitude and scope of eCYBERMISSION and AEOP for making a lasting impact in STEM development on American youth throughout the country," said Dr. David L. Evans, Executive Director of the NSTA and People's Choice award presenter. Evans heads NSTA, the world's largest professional organization representing science educators of all grade levels.
The People's Choice Award, voted by an online audience of more than 10,000 viewers, was presented to "Pandanet," a sixth grade team from Greenbriar West Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. Team members Siddharth Krishnan, Aarav Bajaj, Aryan Kumawat and Siddharth Tibrewala each received iPad minis for their win. Team advisor is Meera Krishnan.
Jyuji Hewitt, RDECOM's Executive Deputy to the Commanding General, presided as host of the awards luncheon and introduced the keynote speaker, Ms. Mary Miller, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Command Sgt. Maj. James Snyder, RDECOM and Michael Holthe, acting Director for Technology, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Research and Technology), joined Hewitt and Miller as they presented awards to the winning teams.
Snyder was also joined onstage by RDECOM noncommissioned officers Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Robledo, Sgt. 1st Class Glominio De Leon, Staff Sgt. Jose Roldan, Staff Sgt. Joseph Pike and Cpl. Lee Gannon to present the Spirit Award to "FCHS1," a ninth grade team from Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, Georgia. Team members Danielle Byrne, Miyang Tamanji, Alexandra Yates and Samuel Dong were led by team advisor Laurie Karickhoff.
According to RDECOM eCYBERMISSION program coordinator Jerry Crabb, the week-long NJEE began with interactive STEM challenges that encouraged students to get to know one another. On day two the group took a bus trip to Washington, D.C., where teams toured the sites and had an opportunity to meet with their Congressional representatives. Day three began with morning physical training led by RDECOM NCOs and was highlighted by STEM Challenge Workshops in which students were asked to devise solutions to difficult tasks. Day four featured the national judging of each project followed by the National Showcase which was live-streamed to an internet audience.
The tireless NSTA staff members who supported eCYBERMISSION this year included: volunteer coordinator Alexis Mundis, educational outreach specialist Cheryl Long, AEOP budget manager Debbie Murray, communications coordinator Dimetrius Simon, volunteer manager Erin Lester, volunteer outreach specialist Frank Curcio, administrative assistant Jasmine Culver, project manager Kathleen Kelly, administrative assistant Keshia Jeffries, logistics coordinator Marcia Washburn, content manager Matt Hartman, administrative assistant Renee Wells, NSTA Director of AEOP Sue Whitsett, and assistant manager of NSTA science education competitions Tom Chinick - Assistant Manager of NSTA Science Education Competitions.