Three hundred fifty-five applications were received, and 271 teams, with more than 1,300 student competitors, qualified for this year’s NJSBA Virtual STEAM Tank regional competitions.

In the midst of a pandemic, the NJSBA was delighted to see such a high level of student participation in the annual contest that challenges students to conceive, build and market products that can make the world a better place.

“The continued success of the Virtual STEAM Tank Challenge is a credit to the determination and imagination of students and educators across New Jersey,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod. “This unique program brings students together online to invent and build a marketable product as part of an exciting, creative, real-world learning experience.”

Many school districts had to work through problems to conduct classes virtually this year, and the STEAM Tank Challenge was no different.  Just like STEAM Tank student teams solve problems, the NJSBA and U.S. Army STEAM Team had to do the same, and thus the virtual STEAM Tank Design Challenge was created. After much time, effort and coordination, the season started during the week of April 12.

This year, as in years past, student teams showed their innovation, creativity and ability to find solutions. For example, a student team from the Gloucester Institute of Technology presented a three-position water-conserving faucet. The team built a full-scale working prototype for the judges. The innovation to an existing bathroom or kitchen sink would reduce water consumption.

The Portal for Possibility  STEAM Tank is the inspirational and innovative portal for possibility.  It is truly amazing what happens when students put on their creative and design thinking caps. Student regional presentations addressed COVID 19 personal protective equipment, safety devices to prevent fires in homes, and portable desks to help people quarantining at home. Other projects addressed air pollution and climate change.

In addition to engaging talented students, STEAM Tank relies on an expert judging panel. STEAM Tank judges ask questions and provide valuable feedback to the teams to improve their designs. They are volunteers from the public and private sector, business and industry leaders, school-based organizations, and the U.S. Army.

The judges play a critical role in the regionals and finals, and they are dedicated to student achievement.  Parents, school staff and other district members are encouraged to attend the student presentations to support their teams.  Although the students may not like the idea of others watching their presentation, because they may feel nervous, this does not stop them.

Students learn by pitching their ideas to a virtual audience and receive crucial feedback. This teaches students a valuable lesson about preparedness and how to field questions. Developing communication skills is a part of the challenge, and pitching concepts with clarity is critical. By design, STEAM Tank Challenge is open-ended so student teams will have the opportunity to reimagine and redesign products to ensure communities are sustainable, healthy, equitable and safe for everyone.

STEAM Tank students also receive sessions with mentors who provide expert advice. The STEAM Tank team met with hundreds of students providing guidance, reviewing presentations, inventions, and providing suggestions for improvement.

$15,000 in Prize Money from PSEG   The NJSBA would like to acknowledge and is grateful to the PSEG Foundation for providing $15,000 in prize money for this year’s students.

The STEAM Tank Challenge uses the Webex virtual platform, and other web-based video conferencing software, to provide the highest quality virtual experience for student teams. The STEAM team is able to provide students an experience that is similar to the look and feel of the in-person events.

Jennifer Siehl, NJSBA’s STEAM Tank coordinator, scheduled events for 271 teams from more than 68 schools in 50 school districts. NJSBA I-STEAM Specialist John Henry and U.S. Army STEAM Fellow 1st Lt. Andrew Becker provided most of the mentoring support for the teams. Lt. Becker has a background in Aeronautical Engineering and was very helpful with engineering-related student projects. Other key members of the U.S. Army STEAM Team are Giovanna Hansen and Michael Halloran. They play a key role by supporting the partnership between New Jersey School Boards Association and the U.S. Army.

The Army is providing an ongoing Master Resilience Training Workshop for NJSBA members. What started out as team building and leadership training for the STEAM Tank community has transitioned into an ongoing series of informative workshops. The May 18 session will discuss the importance of goal setting and planning.

To join the growing STEAM Tank community, or to start a STEAM Tank program in your school or district, please contact the STEAM Team  and please follow us on Facebook.