GCU-aided school trip brings national awards

June 26, 2014 / by / 0 Comment
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By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau

A team of budding scientists at Montebello School  in Phoenix brought home gold and bronze medals from the recent  MESA National Design Competition. From left: Suny Mendez, William Fazille, Montebello teacher and team coach Kelby Milgrim, Carlos Soto and Joselin Cruz. (Photos courtesy of Alhambra Elementary School District)

A team of budding scientists at Montebello School in Phoenix brought home the gold from the recent MESA National Design Competition. From left: Suny Mendez, William Fazille, Montebello teacher and team coach Kelby Milgrim, Carlos Soto and Joselin Cruz. (Photos courtesy of Alhambra Elementary School District)

Nobody builds a high-performing, lightweight prosthetic arm out of household junk like four students at Montebello School in west Phoenix, at least not among those at middle schools or junior highs in Arizona and eight other states.

Led by Montebello eighth-grade science teacher Kelby Milgrim, the teenagers won two prizes at the 2014 National Design Competition of Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), held June 19-22 in Portland, Ore. The team earned first place in the “Design Efficiency” category, meaning its device outperformed and weighed less than the other entries, and third place in the “Technical Paper” category, which measured the students’ understanding of engineering design.

The trip, funded by Grand Canyon University, was precipitated by the team’s Arizona state win in April. The challenge, one that 39,000 students around the country accepted, was to design, engineer and demonstrate a low-cost, environmentally sustainable, easy-to-operate prosthetic arm that could perform a variety of real-life tasks.

Milgrim and Montebello’s after-school MESA Club, including Suny Mendez, Joselin Cruz and William Fazille, all eighth-graders, and seventh-grader Carlos Soto, began working on the design in February. Using plastic soda bottles, string, drinking straws, spring links and a tongs-like device they named the “grip-o-meter,” the foursome perfected their “Handy Tool.” Weight: 4 ounces. Cost to build: less than $3.

Fazille uses the Montebello team's prostetic arm to flip tennis balls into a bucket. The team's trip to the national competition in Portland, Ore., was funded by GCU.

William Fazille uses the Montebello team’s prosthetic arm to flip tennis balls into a bucket. The students’ trip to the national competition in Portland, Ore., was funded by GCU.

Mendez and her teammates demonstrated the device for the national judges by using it to toss tennis balls into buckets from various distances and transfer 15 items from a table into a crate in less than a minute. They also prepared and presented a technical paper and made oral presentations to show their understanding of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts.

Suny was both nervous and exhilarated at the competition Friday and Saturday.

“What motivated us was to build something that anyone who is handicapped could use, that even a 5-year-old could use,” said the 14-year old incoming freshman at Metro Tech High in Phoenix. “It would be really cool to see people using it someday. To have it change someone’s world would be awesome.”

Suny said she plans to return next year to Montebello to help its MESA team, whose motto will be “Mission Impossible (Part 2),” Milgrim said.

“I’m not surprised as to the talents and abilities these precious young people have, if only given the stage to perform,” he said. “These last few days, the stage was set for them, and how incredibly bright the light was on them.  These young people can and do compete with anyone in the nation.”

Dr. Karen Williams, superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District, a member of GCU’s Participants in Learning, Leading and Serving, praised her students and thanked Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO, and the University for sponsoring the trip.

“Grand Canyon University’s commitment to enriching the community is a wise investment and will change lives,” Williams said.

Williams called the competition a “first-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the students, and for Mendez, who has decided to become a robotics engineer, there were several firsts during the Portland trip: ice skating, roller skating, being away from her mom, and reuniting with her dad, who lives there, for the first time in 13 years.

Contact Janie Magruder at 602.639.8018 or janie.magruder@gcu.edu.


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