Students win River Ridge $25,000 in technology

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By Correne Martin

River Ridge seventh graders David Nies and Sam Reuter were recognized Monday afternoon, March 13, at a special school assembly for winning the district $25,000 in technology through Samsung. They were the Wisconsin state winners for the Solve for Tomorrow Contest, which focused on how Science, Technology, Art, Engineering and Math (STEAM) could be applied to help improve the local community. Being one of only 51 winners across the country, among 6-12 grade students, put them in the running for a share of $2 million in technology products.

“These students spent some time, not on the court, not on the field, but in the classroom, doing some research,” Middle/High School Principal Clay Koenig said during the assembly. “This is really unheard of for us to win a contest of this magnitude.”

The project David and Sam created used STEAM skills to combine the genes of corn with a bamboo plant. The intention of doing so would be to transfer the root system of crops for more effective farming.

In the first phase of the Samsung contest, in November, the two good friends answered three questions about their project related to 1) importance of the issue to the school’s community, 2) how STEAM could address the issue and 3) how creative thinking could be incorporated into the project.

Judges then chose state finalists to receive Samsung tablets and to compete in the second phase. This phase required working with their teacher, English instructor Ashley Frey, to type a lesson plan outlining how they would execute their project and create a video addressing the contest.

“My main job was to look at their lesson plan. I honestly let them take control of the rest. I wanted them to be challenged,” Frey stated.

From there, 51 state winners were selected to move on to the third phase at the national level. This meant, by mid-February, David and Sam had to produce and submit a three-minute video demonstrating how their proposal could specifically impact and improve the community. The video was judged on content and production quality, and how well their submission addressed the issue.

Next, the 10 national finalists were chosen to compete in the fourth and final phase of the contest, which involved social media voting and benefits for a charity of their choice (David and Sam picked Farm Aid).

However, this is where the River Ridge students’ efforts ended. They didn’t make the top 10. But, they did earn the River Ridge School District a technology package including 15 Notebook 9 Pros (with 15.6-inch screens), 15 Galaxy Tabs, 15 Level wireless headphones and 15 MicroSDXC Pro memory cards (64 GB)—all valued at $26,288.54.

Though they didn’t make it to the national level, both David and Sam were in disbelief to find out they had been named state winners.

“It was a really good feeling,” Nies said.

Had the duo become one of 10 finalists from across the nation, they would’ve been asked to go to New York and present their idea and video and analyze them for a panel of judges. Three national grand prize winners, and recipients of $150,000 in technology, were named expected to be named this week.

“Most of the [other competitors’ videos] involved food, like quantity of food, mostly for consumer reasons,” David explained. “We wanted to figure out something that was a little more unique. Everybody in our school communities is spread out and we needed to pick something that impacted the most people.”

So, of course, a problem affecting farm land was the natural choice.

David offered the concept of creating a solution to the troubles of soil washing out of farmers’ fields. During the spring and summer, when Wisconsin great amounts of rain, corn can often be washed out before farmers can harvest.

Sam is the one who came across bamboo-infused corn roots as the answer. Correctly combining the genes of corn with a bamboo plant, which has a strong root system,  would allow the corn to gain a stronger root system as well.

“Bamboo is the fastest growing plant. Its roots are less compact and don’t hold as much dirt,” Sam noted.

“We were looking for something like bamboo that didn’t want to bush out real far, that wasn’t too skinny and that would go deep but not far,” David added. “Better water quality and soil quality saves farmers more money.”

The two also pointed out, in their video, that the possibilities are so great with their solution that it could help the world improve food shortages. It could also refine the water system so more soil could stay where it belongs for future farmers.

David thinks the only downfall to their video is that time didn’t allow for them to implement the process for a number of growing seasons and then actually analyze real results.

“I’m so proud of them. They put in a lot of hard work,” Frey stated. “It’s amazing what people can do once they set their mind to a project.”

David and Sam said they learned a lot as they put in long hours before, during and after school to create and edit their video. Ultimately, they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished and what technology they were awarded for their whole school district to enjoy.

“We’re so lucky to get the opportunity to help the whole school,” David said. “We’re just a small school trying to make a big difference.

Koenig said, whether the technology is assigned to a classroom, the library or a multi-purpose room, it has the potential to be touched by every student in the district. He also shared his hopes that David and Sam can serve as an inspiration to other students who have time they can devote to additional school-related endeavors.

“Maybe the next time a teacher challenges you students in the hallway, you can take advantage of that and who knows what the results can be,” Koenig expressed.

David and Sam have been close friends since fourth grade. They work together well. David is well-spoken, likes sports and is very knowledgeable about farming. Sam seems a bit more reserved, but said this project has inspired him to possibly pursue a career in science or engineering someday.

For the near future, they were not certain what’s in store for their bamboo-infused corn root proposition. Perhaps a seed company may take a look at it.

David is the son of Kenny and Michelle Nies and Sam is the son of Cory Reuter and Diane Lange.

To see the video project David and Sam created for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, find the Courier Press Newspaper on Facebook.

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