STEM students rise to the challenge

By Heather Large | Education | Published:

From a reading aid for the blind and visually impaired to a chair in a briefcase for the homeless and elderly – young inventors have been showing off their creations in the MNA STEM Challenge 2018.

Overall winners Thorns Collegiate Academy pupils Hasnan Ahmed, aged 14, Jasmine Lawrence, 14, Kaylee Osborne, 14, Joe Slee, 13, and Grace York-Harris, 14, with Dudley College principal Neil Thomas at the STEM Challenge awards

After months of hard work it was finally time for 21 teams from schools across Shropshire, the Black Country and Staffordshire to present their products to the MNA STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) competition judges.

The students had been set the brief of designing and manufacturing a product to improve or enhance the quality of life for a group or person they considered to be disadvantaged.

Each team was paired up with a mentor from a local business or organisation who have offered them advice and guidance since the challenge was launched.

There was a buzz in the air at Dudley College of Technology as pupils, teachers and business mentors gathered to share their ideas and working models.

And the results were very impressive with a diverse range of products on display around the room at the Dudley Advance II campus.

Judges spent the morning scrutinising their work plans, listening to the pupils’ presentations and watching demonstrations before announcing their winners.

The overall winner was Thorns Collegiate Academy in Quarry Bank, Dudley with their My Stand device, which will now be sold to help raise money for Sedgley-based Beacon Centre.

The team, named Little Einsteins, designed a stand for a mobile phone or tablet that enables blind and visually impaired people to make the most of a talking camera app called Seeing AI.


As well as holding a tablet or phone, it has an extra shelf so that a document can be placed at the ideal height and position in front of the device’s camera enabling the app to read the text out aloud. While developing their product the team, whose mentors were Mel Sinar and Kira Edwards from Petford Group, were in regular contact with Matt Harrison, Beacon’s technology services manager, to ensure the product best suited people’s needs.

'A great experience'

Science teacher Deb Bate said being named overall winners was ‘amazing’, adding: “It’s been a great experience and we’re delighted that thanks to Petford Group the Beacon Centre is going to be selling these stands in their shop.”

Team member Jasmine Lawrence, aged 14, said winning felt ‘surreal’ and they had all enjoyed taking part in the challenge.”


The winner of Best Presentation, sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton, was Team Dynamic from Sir John Talbot’s School Whitchurch. Their creation, The Overlay Pen, was designed to help people with dyslexia by magnifying text and making it easier to read. Director of ICAT, Laura Richmond said: “The students have not needed much teacher input, so it really is their own product.”

The winner of Best Team Work, sponsored by Kuka, was the Look Busy team from Madeley Academy. With the help of science teacher Dr Christothea Constandinou-Williams and mentor Glyn Ferriday from Reaseheath College, they designed a homeless shelter that was fully waterproof and insulated from the cold.

Dr Constandinou-Williams said: “They came up with a fantastic concept and have learned a lot of new skills.”

The winner of Best Work Plan, sponsored by Entrust, was the Holly Hauliers from Holly Hall Academy who were working with mentors Martyn Hughes and Ryan Young from Harco Engineering on their ‘chair in a briefcase’ product.

“You can carry it anywhere and everything, even the legs, fit inside,” said 14-year-old Alex Oleschuk.

Physics teacher Steve Jabore said: “It’s been nice to see their enthusiasm for the product.”

The winner of Best Operating Model, sponsored by DENSO, were the Atomic Acotians from Adcote School for Girls in Shrewsbury, who worked with mentor Amy Farley from Marches Centre of Technology & Manufacturing (MCMT).


The team of Year 7 and 8 pupils created a lightweight portable ramp that fits to the side of a wheelchair.

The winners were presented with trophies by the sponsors.

Each of the pupils who won category prizes received £10 One4all gift cards and the overall winners had £15 each.

Shropshire Star editor Martin Wright said: “The response from the schools was absolutely tremendous – and some of the ideas they came up with were equally impressive. I have no doubt that this campaign has uncovered some stars of the future.

“I would also like to thank our sponsors and the mentors – without them, the challenge would not have been such a big success.”

Express & Star editor Keith Harrison congratulated all of the teams, saying: “We’ve all been taken aback by the response. The ingenuity, dedication, organisation and the talent of those involved has shone through from the very start.”

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.


Top stories


More from Shropshire Star

UK & International News