In May 2016, over 400 high-school students brought their solutions for a better world to the 2016 Alaska Airlines Imagine Tomorrow competition at Washington State University. The competition is hosted by the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture at Washington State University. NARA has been a major sponsor of this event since 2011. Encouraging high school students to think about energy solutions fits well with NARA’s education goals to increase bioenergy literacy and develop a bioenergy workforce.
With NARA’s support (through USDA-NIFA funding), Imagine Tomorrow expanded from an event available only to students in the sate of Washington into a regional competition open to student teams in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. In addition, the NARA Biofuels Challenge category was added so that more teams would consider solutions to developing the next generation of biofuels. The NARA biofuels challenge category will continue through to the 2018 competition. NARA’s involvement was not limited to financial support, NARA also provided workshops and stipends to encourage high school participation in the event and raise the quality of the student learning experience.
NARA will complete its project tasks by the end of this year, and consequently, NARA’s financial support for Imagine Tomorrow will end as well. Fortunately, a number of other organizations provide financial support for Imagine Tomorrow as it evolves and benefits future students. Last year, Alaska Airlines announced a partnership with Imagine Tomorrow. One result of this investment is that the 2016 event was named the Alaska Airlines Imagine Tomorrow.
Category winners in the NARA Biofuels Challenge
Teams participating in the NARA biofuels challenge developed presentations within one of these three areas: technology, design, or behavior. The first place winning teams for this year in the NARA Biofuels Challenge all came from the Tesla STEM High School in Redmond Washington. Each 1st place team was awarded $1,500 for the school and $300 for each student. Second place and honorable mention teams also received cash awards.
1st Place in Technology: Depressurized Distillation: An Energy Efficient Approach to Ethanol Extraction in Biofuel Production
This team “… engineer[ed] and design[ed] a small scale prototype to test the concept of ethanol distillation by using low atmospheric pressure instead of heat. [They] then appl[ied] the design to a theoretical large-scale system to estimate the effects that implementation of such a system would make.”
2nd place school: Cascade High School
Honorable mention school: TAF Academy
1st Place in Design: Value Added Glycerol for Aviation Biofuel
This team “ … realized that glycerol was being thrown away rather than being used for valuable for the valuable energy source it is. [They] analyzed the different uses for glycerol and designed the infrastructure changes required to support them. Then [they] selected the most economically viable plan and developed it fully into a feasible design.”
2nd place school: Cascade High School
Honorable mention school: La Center High School
1st Place in Behavior: How Can We Educate Youth on the Environmental and Economic Advantages of Biofuels over Traditional Non-renewable Energy Sources in an Engaging Fashion?
This team “create[d] an innovative simulation video game that educates players on the environmental and economic advantages to the utilization of biofuels over traditional non-renewable resources for powering the world. [They] test[ed] and refine[d] the game to optimize it for gameplay smoothness and immersion.”
2nd place school: Lake Roosevelt High School
Honorable mention school: LA Center High School
Four hundred and eleven students participated, representing 117 teams from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Thirty-one high schools attended; nine schools were first time participants. Fifty seven percent of the students were male; 43 percent were female. The percentage of ninth graders was 35%, 10th graders 28%, 11th graders 17%, and 12th graders 20%. One out of every three students (146 total) received a cash award.
Two reports provide some indication to how the Imagine Tomorrow event impacts high school students. One assessment evaluated the level of energy literacy reflected in the students’ abstracts and posters and the other measures the students’ experience and career intentions and interest in STEM.
View Imagine Tomorrow Literacy Assessments and Surveys here