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Valerie Gilfoy, left, of Naples High School, and Morgan Cotner, right, of Wiesbaden High School, examine a piece of equipment during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development.

Valerie Gilfoy, left, of Naples High School, and Morgan Cotner, right, of Wiesbaden High School, examine a piece of equipment during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Valerie Gilfoy, left, of Naples High School, and Morgan Cotner, right, of Wiesbaden High School, examine a piece of equipment during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development.

Valerie Gilfoy, left, of Naples High School, and Morgan Cotner, right, of Wiesbaden High School, examine a piece of equipment during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Morgan Cotner of Wiesbaden High School uses modeling software during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday,  Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development. Computer simulations engineering students were challenged with designing and building - with a 3D printer - a plastic clip to attach to cellular phones.

Morgan Cotner of Wiesbaden High School uses modeling software during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium, an annual event bringing together some of the brightest minds in the school system for a week of innovation and intellectual development. Computer simulations engineering students were challenged with designing and building - with a 3D printer - a plastic clip to attach to cellular phones. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

John Mol, right, a physics applications and robotic engineering teacher at Ramstein High School, aids Taylor Phillips of Sigonella High School during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the annual DODDS-Europe STEMposium.

John Mol, right, a physics applications and robotic engineering teacher at Ramstein High School, aids Taylor Phillips of Sigonella High School during a computer simulations engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the annual DODDS-Europe STEMposium. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Miriam Matthew of Baumholder High School, right, uses a drill ro make a hole in some piping as Aric Mora of Incirlik High School looks on during a marine engineering seminar on Monday,  Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. Students in six disciplines, including marine engineering, worked together to create a solution to plastic pollution in the world's oceans.

Miriam Matthew of Baumholder High School, right, uses a drill ro make a hole in some piping as Aric Mora of Incirlik High School looks on during a marine engineering seminar on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. Students in six disciplines, including marine engineering, worked together to create a solution to plastic pollution in the world's oceans. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Ferguson, a bomb disposal technician with the 786th Civil Engineering Squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, talks to students from Defense Department schools on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, about his job and the robots he and his team use in their work. The students are participating in the annual DODDS-Europe STEMposium. The symposium, which runs from Dec. 6-11, confronts students with a challenging scenario for which they must work together to develop solutions.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Ferguson, a bomb disposal technician with the 786th Civil Engineering Squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, talks to students from Defense Department schools on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, about his job and the robots he and his team use in their work. The students are participating in the annual DODDS-Europe STEMposium. The symposium, which runs from Dec. 6-11, confronts students with a challenging scenario for which they must work together to develop solutions. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Mahroos Peterson, a teacher at Baumholder High School, helps students in the green technology seminar with the assembly of a solar battery on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. In all, 108 students from across DODDS schools gathered for the weeklong event, which is designed to confront them with a real-world problem they work in teams of six to solve.

Mahroos Peterson, a teacher at Baumholder High School, helps students in the green technology seminar with the assembly of a solar battery on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. In all, 108 students from across DODDS schools gathered for the weeklong event, which is designed to confront them with a real-world problem they work in teams of six to solve. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Carson Morrison, a junior at Sigonella High School, moves his robot prototype during a robotics engineering seminar on Tuesday,  Dec. 8, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. The theme of this year's event was plastic pollution in the world's oceans, and teams of six students had to work together to design solutions to the problem.

Carson Morrison, a junior at Sigonella High School, moves his robot prototype during a robotics engineering seminar on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the DODDS-Europe STEMposium. The theme of this year's event was plastic pollution in the world's oceans, and teams of six students had to work together to design solutions to the problem. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

A team of students faces a simulated press conference during the DODDS-Europe STEMposium on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Teams were graded on their ability to explain their intentions and ideas to solve a real-world problem using engineering and innovation.

A team of students faces a simulated press conference during the DODDS-Europe STEMposium on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Teams were graded on their ability to explain their intentions and ideas to solve a real-world problem using engineering and innovation. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

Outside the confines of the classroom, more than a hundred students from Defense Department schools are developing solutions for plastic that’s polluting the world’s oceans.

“We’re all wanting to live long on this earth,” said Sigonella junior Carson Morrison, “We’re seeing that because of what past generations have done, we’re kind of on the short end — we have to do something about it.”

Morrison is one of 108 students participating in the annual STEMposium, where students use science, technology, engineering and math to brainstorm solutions to major issues facing the planet.

In 18 teams of six — all named after letters of the Greek alphabet — each student has an assigned role. There is a biotech engineer, a green technology engineer, a robotics engineer, a marine engineer, an environmental engineer and a computer simulations engineer. They’ve been playing out those roles this week at a hostel in central Germany.

“What engineers do is solve problems using tools and materials. You can’t do that entirely in your brain or on a computer screen; you have to build something,” said Frank Pendzich of Wiesbaden High School, who organized the STEMposium for students from the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. “So, that’s why our kids are building submarines, or robots and things like that.”

A study published in Science magazine in February showed that the amount of plastic garbage in the ocean equals five plastic bags for every foot of coastline worldwide. That’s having a growing impact on ocean chemistry and sea life.

The intellectual energy around the hostel, where students are staying for the week, is palpable.

“You hear kids during breakfast and lunch, and they’re all talking about their meetings, or you overhear them in the hallway talking about what they’re doing and sharing information,” said Anita Lang, an engineering teacher at Lakenheath High School and an adviser for team Zeta. “They’re used to seeing teachers as the experts, but now they are seeing each other as the experts.”

Megan Bernard, a sophomore from Bitburg High School, who plans on a career in medicine, said there has been a strong collegial ethic.

“Planning our team-building activities has been really fun, because we have to find a way to work together,” she said.

On Monday, the groups met with their faculty advisers in seminars to get a more solid grasp on the subject matter before heading out Wednesday on field trips. On Tuesday, each group had to present its proposal at a mock news conference, with other students asking questions.

At an open house on Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., students will showcase their efforts, and the robotics and underwater remotely-operated vehicles they have created.

The three groups deemed to have the best plans to solve the problem will be recognized, but the advisers are confident everyone will have benefited.

“I truly believe there is someone in this group who is going to cure cancer, build an engine that doesn’t pollute, solve the world’s energy crisis,” Pendzich said. “I think by being here their chance of doing that is much higher than if they stayed in the classroom back home.”

stoutamire.dan@stripes.com

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