A total of 75 students representing 20 science classes and robotics teams from Monterey County high schools competed in the second annual Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Rapid Innovation Design Challenge, offering real-world local solutions to a national security imperative and global problem – climate change.
At an award ceremony on May 19, students and teachers from Salinas, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Greenfield were honored by NPS for their climate change solutions. The teams competed for a chance to win prizes up to $2,000 sponsored by the NPS Foundation (NPSF).
Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) joined NPS senior leaders and other Design Challenge collaborators in recognizing winning student-faculty teams from Alisal High School in Salinas, Monterey High School and Pacific Grove High School.
“Tackling the big challenges we face, like climate change, will require a new generation of young people harnessing the power of emerging technology to find solutions,” said Panetta. “Through the Naval Postgraduate School’s Rapid Innovation Design Challenge, our community is creating space for our high school students to think big, deepen their problem-solving skills, and consider how they can make an impact, locally and globally. I was proud to recognize the work and talents of these Monterey County students and faculty and I look forward to seeing their continued growth as leaders in California’s 19th Congressional District.”
Panetta, NPS Vice Provost for Academic Leadership Dr. Jomana Amara, NPS Chief of Staff Capt. Philip Old, NPSF President Rich Patterson and Edua Dickerson, Vice President of ESG and Finance Strategy at ServiceNow, presented student team members with letters of recognition for their efforts.
“Providing STEM opportunities to high school students that challenge critical thinking not only enriches curricula, but also shows these students the diversity of career opportunities in STEM fields, including those possible in the Navy and Marine Corps,” said NPS associate professor Dr. Mara Orescanin, who helped establish the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge in 2022.
The challenge, which ran from Feb. 1 to April 30, focused on how workflow process automation can address local community climate change challenges. Participants were encouraged to create low-code or no-code custom applications for their challenge solutions using software provided by NPS’ industry collaborators.
The competition’s top honor, the “Global Solution Grand Championship,” and the $2,000 grand prize went to a team from Alisal High for its thorough efforts to investigate and understand the issues behind climate change as it relates to soil nutrient levels – and generate a solution to help mitigate those issues.
Teacher Lorand Incze’s team developed a prototype application, the “Soil Nutrient Tracking App,” utilizing Software as a Service (SaaS) technology that allows users to upload measured nutrient levels into a database, where this data can be flagged for unsuitable growing conditions and tracked over time. This solution has the potential to notice local trends in nutrients that can be affected by climate change factors including extreme flooding and/or drought.
“Programs like this are very enriching activities for the students. It helps with the student’s self-confidence and further develops their skills,” said Incze. “We are extremely thankful for the opportunity to work on real-world problems, and we hope to compete in this challenge for many years to come.”
Two of the three runner-up categories, each with a $500 prize, were won by teams representing Pacific Grove High. One team captured the “Climate Change Warrior” challenge with an app design called “Say NO to Palm Oil.” The proposed mobile app not only raises awareness of certain food products that can be harmful to the environment, but also offers alternative, more environmentally friendly food options.
The second winning team from Pacific Grove took home “Best Digital Design” honors for their development and documentation of an app called “E-Commute.” The proposed app would encourage sustainable transportation by analyzing users’ commuting patterns and informing them of their current carbon dioxide emissions, helping them to accordingly reduce their carbon footprint.
The final runner-up category, “Persuasive Problem Solver,” was won by Monterey High’s “Robodores” team for their video presentation pitching the “RideNow” app, another proposed transportation app which would help connect potential rideshare commuters in order to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
Other environmental challenges addressed by students included sea level rise, increased frequency of extreme weather events, drought, habitat and species loss and ocean acidification. Applications that the student teams designed showed a range of technological capabilities including data analytics and reporting, social networking, notifications, climate monitoring or any number of creative methods to address the challenges associated with climate change.
“Climate security is a priority for the Department of the Navy and our nation,” said the president of NPS, retired Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau. “Addressing this and other challenges will require ingenuity and inspiration, not just from our current Sailors and Marines, but also from the next generation of scientists and engineers. Opportunities like the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge are vital in encouraging our nation’s youth to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering so that we can solve these issues and others to come.”
The 2023 Rapid Innovation Design Challenge was developed in collaboration with the NPS Foundation, Aecern and their Scoutlier program, and industry and technology experts from ServiceNow, ICF and Carahsoft.
“ServiceNow is a proud collaborator of the Naval Postgraduate School’s 2023 Rapid Innovation Design Challenge. This program sits firmly within our values, aligning closely to our mission to uplift young innovators and our commitment to environmental stewardship. We are honored to have contributed our technology to help enable these worthy goals,” said Dickerson.
NPS’ Rapid Innovation Design Challenge program includes scaffolded curricula that match critical skills for higher education and a modern workforce to school standards. Each challenge integrates critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving and written communication skills as teams explore applications of science, technology, engineering and math to create meaningful solutions with global impact.
This year, student teams were paired with NPS student mentors and had access to software developers and industry experts to facilitate a deeper understanding of solution creation. Both high school students and NPS students had the opportunity to earn professional certifications in no-code application development.
Led by Orescanin and faculty associate D’Marie Bartolf, the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge aligns with NPS’ commitment to increase educational equity in STEM and to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, technologists and more. The program is designed to build excitement about STEM, mitigate barriers to experiential learning opportunities for all students, introduce students to emerging technologies, and strengthen community capacity to offer impactful education opportunities.
“The Design Challenge at NPS establishes a direct connection to local schools using NPS faculty and students as technical experts and mentors, curriculum experts that can translate high level technical information into high school appropriate material, and industry collaborators who can further mentor students in career opportunities,” Orescanin said. “It is essential that we inspire our future generations to pursue hard problems and mentor them as they discover what is possible.”
Planning has already started for the 2024 Rapid Innovation Design Challenge, which will launch in the fall of 2023. The NPS Design Challenge team, in collaboration with the NPS Foundation, is working toward expanding the program across a wider region, offering a variety of challenges for participants to choose from, and including more industry collaborators to support the learning environment. More information is available at https://nps.edu/design-challenge.
The Naval Postgraduate School provides defense-focused graduate education, including classified studies and interdisciplinary research, to advance the operational effectiveness, technological leadership and warfighting advantage of the Naval service. For additional information, visit NPS online at https://nps.edu.
The collaboration conducted under the auspices of the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge does not constitute endorsement of non-federal organizations or their products and services by the Naval Postgraduate School, the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.