Local students win at Imagine Tomorrow Competition

  • Written by Deborah Stone
(l-r:) Dan Thorson, Ian Rattue and David Bailey, from the district’s Environmental Technology & Design class, won for Best Project by a newly participating school in the 1st Congressional District at the Imagine Tomorrow Competition. Courtesy photo.
Years ago, there were few competitions for students outside the athletic world, other than spelling bees and debate tournaments.

Today, there are a myriad of contests and challenges in almost every field, from math and science to history and the arts.

Students have the opportunity to test their knowledge, skills and talents in a wide range of realms, as they go up against the best of the best in their district, state, region and country.

One relative newcomer to the plethora of contests is the Imagine Tomorrow Competition, which was created with the aim of challenging high school students to seek new ways to support society’s transition to alternate energy sources.

This is the fourth year for the event, which is held in May at Washington State University in Pullman.

At the outset, the competition asks teams of Washington high school students to address a topic – this year, energy sustainability – by answering any of four challenges: technological, behavioral, design or multidisciplinary. Participants research complex topics and then innovate technologies, designs or plans to mobilize behavior that will spur positive change toward energizing the planet.

In the technology sector, for example, students are required to invent or redesign a machine or process that uses sustainable technologies for energy production, consumption and conservation.

With respect to the design challenge, they have to create a living/working space with significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than at present.

In the behavior category, students consider the question of why people are resistant to adopting and implementing alternate sources of energy and then document a personal or social quality that contributes to this resistance. Or they could demonstrate an intervention that could be applied to encourage individuals to adopt alternate energy sources.

In regards to the multidisciplinary collaboration challenge, participants develop a project that incorporates expertise from at least two disciplines to address some aspect of the shift toward alternate sources of energy.

This year, over 160 teams from across the state competed for a total of over $100,000 in cash prizes.

Among them were five teams from Northshore’s Environmental Technology & Design class and one from WHS’s Science Club.

"We had a good showing," says Michael Wierusz, instructor for the Environmental Technology & Design class. "One of our five teams won two awards. It was very exciting and a great experience for all the students."

This is the first year the Environmental Technology & Design program has been offered and it is a satellite course that draws juniors and seniors from across the district.

Held at the Secondary Academy for Success (SAS), the course is described as a "new way to look at integrated, project-based learning through the lens of sustainable design."

It encourages students to apply their science, math, technology and engineering skills while using investigative techniques to address "real world" environmental issues.

Wierusz explains that the course emphasizes a hands-on industry based curriculum aimed at enabling students to understand the nature of sustainability and the interrelationships among humans, the "built environment" and the natural world.

He says, "The class explores sustainable design technologies within buildings, transportation, energy, ecosystems and consumer products. There is a lot of lab work involved and students get to have a number of experiences to optimize the various green technologies installed in and around SAS."

A unique part of the program involves participation from industry partners such as McKinstry, 21 Acres, Cascadia Community College, Snohomish County PUD and Autodesk, among others.

For the Imagine Tomorrow Competition, students in Wierusz’s course researched issues regarding sustainable energy design and submitted their project ideas to the class, which subsequently voted on the top six ideas. The groups created posters to explain their projects, as well as created conceptual models and working prototypes if needed.

One of the teams, "Sustainable Packaging" won Best Project by a newly participating school from the 1st Congressional District and 4th place in the Multidisciplinary Collaboration category.

The team, which included students Dan Thorson, Ian Rattue and David Bailey, created a green rating system for product packaging.

Their entry earned them a net prize of $1,750 (to be split among the trio) and $2,000 for the Environmental Technology & Design program. Another team, "Potential Bright As The Sun," came close to placing in the Technology category.

Students Marina Fletcher and Alex Tuggle explored the different uses and applications of solar power, targeting the realm of sports/active equipment with the idea of promoting clean energy while helping people live healthier lives.

"It was fingers crossed at the end," comments Wierusz, "but they just didn’t quite make it.

"On the flip-side, however, the team received advice from a couple different judges that they should do a little patent research for their design. A Boeing exec also asked to meet with the members before they graduated to discuss the possibility of having their product installed on the Boeing facility."

Wierusz notes the many benefits of the competition for the students, among which include the ability to work on a current problem and present it in a live forum to senior execs from major companies across the state.

He comments, "Imagine Tomorrow was a fantastic opportunity to give these students a small taste of the clean energy/sustainable design world that’s out there right now. They took advantage of the opportunity to work with real professionals from industry on real projects of their choosing and then presented their solutions at a real competition with real corporate executive judges and real prize money. It was hands-down a more authentic form of ‘education’ and something that I will definitely do again next year."

From the students’ point of view, the event was equally successful and beneficial.

David Bailey, one of the members of the Sustainable Packaging team says, "Win or lose, I found Imagine Tomorrow to be an extremely rewarding and encouraging experience overall. It was great to see a collective group of individuals who are dedicated to answering the question of sustainability which surrounds so much of future generations.

"My group felt that the competition was a great way to show our work to date and get constructive feedback for ways we can improve our company for the future because even though we are all going to different colleges next year, we still are looking at attending other competitions and events in the future such as the NextFifty.

"Whether this company succeeds or not, Dan, Ian and I are seeking to educate people on what sustainability really looks like as well as doing something we have all come to really enjoy."

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