Even at more than 1,100 strong, the Pre-College Initiative (PCI) Conference participants weren’t the largest group at NSBE’s 41st Annual Convention. But it was clear from the outset that PCI came to play! From the technical competitions to the science and engineering workshops to the entertainment events, the NSBE Jr. members and other middle school and high school students on site at the Hilton Anaheim and nearby Anaheim Convention Center were high energy, ready to learn and prepared to have a good time in the process.

A few of the many highlights of the PCI Conference follow.

KidWind

Months of work went into the centerpieces that stood on tables in the room where the KidWind competition was held. The colorful structures weren’t just decorations. Each was a wind turbine designed by a team of high school students participating in the KidWind program, whose goal is to foster a generation prepared to develop and use renewable energy.

Siddiq Muhammad of the Saturday Science and Math Academy (SSMA) NSBE Jr. Chapter was spokesman for one of the teams, as former NSBE Executive Director Charles Walker and the other judges evaluated his team’s turbine and the processes they used to create it. SSMA is based in Albuquerque, N.M.

“We chose the turbine competition because we have already competed in the (Engineering Design Competition) and the (Ten80 Student Racing Challenge),” Siddiq said. “We feel that renewable energy is what we’re going to be looking toward in the future, so that’s what we felt we should focus (on), this year.”

Among other things, the KidWind activities taught the SSMA team laws and formulas that determine how much energy is translated from the turbine to the generator that creates the electricity, Siddiq explained.

NSBE Jr. Technical Innovations Competition

On the California Promenade in the Anaheim Hilton, Kamira Nowlin-Flagg and Leslie Rosario of Syracuse City School District NSBE Jr. Chapter presented their project, “Transportation Innovations: The Air Bag Dilemma,” during the NSBE Jr. Technical Innovations Competition.

“Today’s air bags (can be) pretty dangerous,” explained Kamira. “They have (sharp) metal and chemicals that have a possibility of coming out when the airbag deploys, which can harm you…. So what we wanted to do was make something that was safer and more effective than an airbag.”

Their invention, which they call a vehicular safety protector, is meant to protect the driver’s head. The device uses an actuator switch, an air compressor, copper piping and a cushion that can extend from the car’s steering wheel.

In the event of a crash, the actuator, a small switch on the bumper, is pressed, air flows through the copper piping, and the cushion deploys. A sensor under the seat measures the driver’s weight, using technology from the VEX Robotics program, and determines the amount of air released.

Leslie, now a high school junior, started with NSBE Jr. when she was in the 6th grade.

“I started this as a math person. They just recruited me because I was really good at math,” Leslie said. “When I was younger, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going to become an engineer.’ I didn’t even know what an engineer was. And I got into NSBE, and now I want to become a mechanical engineer.”

The third partner in the project, Deonna Jackson, was not available for the interview.

Future of Technology in Gaming

At the start of this workshop, Duane Kinnon of Immersive Concepts — a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education company — told the middle school and high school students in the audience that they would learn about professions in the video game (“gaming”) industry, use some new gaming technology and create a video game concept. He added that the winning concept would be used to create a real video game.

But hearing the workshop presenter talk about it was one thing. Seeing it for themselves was quite another. While one group gathered to talk about their game concept, Gordon Henry, Kinnon’s partner at Immersive Concepts, had students in the other group try out an Oculus Rift 3-D helmet, which enabled the students to see a virtual world created by computer software. The students’ smiles, shouts and gestures said it all: being inside of a video game was mind-blowing.

Ten80 STEM Initiative

The Ten80 competition was wild. Teams of middle school students gathered around a large, maze-like racetrack and its scoreboard, to steer and cheer their miniature, electric, remote-controlled radio cars through a 40-minute race. A large crowd of spectators looked on and added to the decibels in the room. At the beginning, it looked like a speed and steering contest, as the shiny cars zipped around the track. But by the end, it was clear that this was a test of endurance, as the cars that remained were battered by collisions and hardly recognizable as the same vehicles that had stood at the starting line.

The Ten80 STEM Initiative is a national program of Ten80 Education, an organization that works to cultivate students’ literacy and skills in science, technology, engineering and math. The endurance race was only one of a number of challenges faced by Ten80 participants at the Annual Convention. The middle school and high school teams from Chicago State University PCI NSBE Jr. Chapter were the overall Ten80 winners this year and were invited to participate in the Ten80 National STEM League Finals at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston, Texas, in May.