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The students of Team Comfort Cast.

On Friday, June 28, local high school students gathered at Pima Community College Downtown to take part in the third annual Junior Shark Tank Competition, hosted by the S.Y.STEM Coalition and the Pima Joint Technical Education District. The students pitched products of their own creation in hopes of winning the grand prize: a $5,000 scholarship.

The Raytheon-sponsored scholarship went to Team Comfort Cast, a team who created “an alternative to a sling or brace for collarbone injuries that improves mobility and comfort while still protecting the patient” according to David Jones, director of the internship program. The team was made up of Daniel Leon and Leif Nelson-Melby from Sonoran Science Academy and Sophie Fell from Catalina Foothills.

Second place went to Team Prime Power Saver, who received a Marshall Foundation scholarship of $2,500. In addition to the scholarship, the team was awarded the Dr. H. L. Mehta Perseverance Award after their display of pushing through adversity. Their product was “a home electrical device that increases power efficiency by increasing power factor by means of switching in capacitance or inductance based on home load utilization,” Jones said. This team consisted of Meghna Sreeram from Catalina Foothills, Israel Lara from Sunnyside and Manasa Sreeram from BASIS Tucson North.

Judges for this year’s competition included representatives from Raytheon Missile Systems, Startup Tucson, The City of Tucson Mayor’s Office, Pima Joint Technical Education District, Tucson Electric Power and more. Three factors were considered during the judging process.

“First, by performance in Competition Day as evaluated by a panel of Tucson leaders on the persuasiveness of the product concepts,” Jones said. “Second, by performance in in-depth technical presentations to members of the Junior Shark Tank team and graded on how well their work satisfied the industry-based checkpoints given by their curriculum. Third, a small component of their grade was given by their engagement in the internship program on a day-to-day basis as evaluated by their instructors.”

The competition was the result of an internship students participated in for a month. Students got their hands dirty creating products with the help of guest mentors who visited the students during the month. The competition is a collaborative effort between S.Y.STEM Coalition and JTED.

“S.Y.STEM Coalition is a non-profit volunteer organization, founded in Tucson, that is dedicated to steering K-12 students of all backgrounds toward Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” Jones said. “S.Y.STEM Coalition specializes in applied learning opportunities and connecting students to industry.”

S.Y.STEM Coalition and JTED shared similarities that naturally brought them together. According to S.Y.STEM’s media VP Selena Valencia, their overlapping goals of bringing STEM and industry to students made for a natural partnership that began Fall 2016, prior to the first Junior Shark Tank in Summer 2017.

“JTED has a facility for construction, woodworking and metal working that is less utilized in the summer when Junior Shark Tank runs,” Valencia said. “The Junior Shark Tank program benefits greatly from the ability to fabricate prototypes in this facility.”

This program is meant to provide stepping-stones for students in the STEM field.

“This program builds student’s confidence in STEM and business subjects as well as allowing interest in STEM careers,” Valencia said. “The students build their first industry connections through their interactions and networking with mentors, guest lecturers, Competition Day judges, and S.Y.STEM Coalition volunteers.”

Jones intends on seeing the program grow.

“We would like to see this program grow in student numbers and reach students from a greater variety of Tucson schools,” Jones said. “We also hope to expand the program to S.Y.STEM Coalition locations outside of Tucson in the near future.”

Ambur Wilkerson is a University of Arizona journalism graduate student and Tucson Local Media intern.

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