DODEA’s tech symposium takes off for Mars
By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2016
WIESBADEN, Germany — The planet Mars has captured the public imagination recently thanks to the Matt Damon movie “The Martian” and the National Geographic Channel’s miniseries “Mars.”
It’s also the focus of this year’s DODEA STEMposium, which looks at the exploration and colonization of the earth’s closest planetary neighbor. More than 100 freshmen, sophomore and junior students are participating in the annual event devoted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics this week in Wiesbaden.
“We always try to find something that’s relevant, that’s engaging and has a lot of STEM elements, so it seemed like a natural fit,” said Frank Pendzich, event director and a teacher at Wiesbaden High School. “We figured that would be a good way for them to experience STEM in a way that really means something.”
The 108 students from Department of Defense Education Activity schools all over Europe have been divided into 18 teams. Each team, made up of student “engineers” specializing in everything from biotech to robotics, has been tasked with developing a plan to colonize the red planet. The top three teams will be chosen Thursday night, after an open house from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
“I had gone to the middle school STEMposiums so I knew kind of what it was like, so as soon as the opportunity came out to come here I jumped on it, and it has completely surpassed my expectations,” said Ramstein freshman Austin Brindowski, a robotics engineer. “I think they did a really nice job so far.”
He said the thrill of pitting his team’s plan against those of others is the best part of the week. Each team faces the same scenario, and the top teams will be those with the best plans and execution during the week to solve it.
“I think it’s the competition,” he said. “The fact we get a week to do it draws it out where we try to get every single point we can get before the final events.”
Pendzich said the students were thrown a bit of a curveball on Tuesday, when they found out that the scenario included an asteroid heading toward earth.
On Tuesday, students were able to simulate the feeling of weightlessness in space by climbing onto a gyroscope.
“It was really fun,” said Brussels freshman Paris Rogers, a green tech engineer. “It was really heavy because you have to force all your weight onto it to flip it over, but it was also really cool rocking back and forth, like a super extreme swing.”
As part of their scenarios, the teams will need to include plans to eventually return home.
“Projects will be to plan for five years — not just create a colony but survive and thrive until returning to Earth,” Pendzich said.
Austin Brindowski of Ramstein High School, Germany, assembles part of a model Martian rover during STEMposium 2016, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Wiesbaden, Germany. More than 100 students from Europe-wide Defense Department schools gathered in Wiesbaden to participate in a scenario involving the colonization of Mars.
DAN STOUTAMIRE/STARS AND STRIPES