Wednesday, December 6, 2017

STEM-In-Action Grant


Our eCYBERMISSION team: the Cybermaniacs (Henry Naughton, Sonith Sunku, Sohan Kosuru, and Jay Rachakonda) was formed in 2016 when we were sixth graders from Navy Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. We are now seventh graders at nearby Rachel Carson Middle School, and are continuing our eCYBERMISSION work: studying the growing problem of impervious surfaces in our modern world, which includes our own backyards and schools.
Originally, our plan focused on solutions for our school field and playground, but after further research, we decided to narrow our focus to only the playground. This decision was based on the following factors: (1) cost: to make both the field and playground pervious, the cost more than doubled, rather than just focusing on the playground. (2) Need: this September (2016), we visited the schoolyard during a heavy rainstorm and observed more standing water on the playground compared to any other area of the schoolyard. (3) Outside variable: the PTO is researching a possible track for the field, and we did not want to do any work in an area that was under possible construction and development.
eCYBERMISSION granted our team $4,200.00 to make our schoolyard more permeable. Currently our plan for the playground includes: (1) Planting mature switchgrass at the front of the playground where the largest puddles exist, and the ground is most compacted to help prevent runoff. (2) Building up the border (3-by-6 feet) around the switchgrass and possible enclosure with a rope fence to prevent student traffic. (3) Widening the entrance to the playground with either porous asphalt or pervious pavers to direct and allow student traffic of up to 120 students entering the playground. (4) Laying sod on either side of the school doorway where ground is currently compacted dirt. (5) Creating a swale into one nearby drain to allow water to flow more successfully. (6) Placing an underground pipe under a row of swings to determine if this helps water flow more efficiently into a nearby storm drain. (7) Conducting further research on crum rubber and geotextile to see if they can be utilized as part of our plan. Our hope is that this plan moves students and redirects their traffic to minimize compaction, and also move water so it infiltrates into the ground and nearby drains.
We have met with a Soil Scientist, Urban Conservation Specialist, and Urban Conservation Engineer from Northern Virginia Water, and Soil Conservation District (NVWSCD) and a landscaper to discuss our plan. Our next steps are to come up with specific information to review with them, and present this information, including cost, to Navy Elementary’s principal.


Monday, December 4, 2017

STEM-In-Action Grant

Team ColumbiaGreen


We are team ColumbiaGreen from Madison, Alabama, and we started this project as sixth graders in the summer of 2016. We heard about the eCYBERMISSION competition through online research, specifically competitions that make a difference in the community.
We noticed that some of the plastic bottles in the recycling bins throughout our community had the bottle cap still on, and some did not. We also noticed these caps littered our neighborhood community pond and school grounds.
We soon discovered our local recycling company only accepted the bottles, not the caps. The caps are made from a plastic that’s chemically different than the plastic used to make the bottles. When residents recycled these caps, they could potentially cause harm to workers, and those put in the trash were sent to a landfill or could potentially harm wildlife.  

We surveyed people within our neighborhood and found that most people were unaware of the recycling situation and were eager to change their ways for the environment. We set up a yellow bin as a pilot in our neighborhood, and it collected 5,000 caps in just six months!

With the STEM-In-Action Grant prize, we plan to expand this pilot throughout the city of Madison, Ala. We will arrange the collection of the plastic bottle caps, and send them down to Troy, Ala. to correctly dispose of them. Our end goal is to have our system fully implanted throughout Madison by the end of the year.




Friday, December 1, 2017

CyberGuide Spotlight

I’ve been volunteering for the past two years with eCYBERMISSION as a CyberGuide. I have a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering and am originally from Northeast Pennsylvania. My name’s David Zahorksy and I’d say I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.

I spent 26 years working in the world of Automated Test Equipment, which was a great combo of electronic hardware and software design challenges. The past four years I have been working in the world of Project Management.

My first thought was to try to relate to all of you participating in eCYBERMISSION and try to show something from my life that inspired me to pursue engineering. However, I’m too old and the world has changed too much to do that justice.

So, let me give you my perspective from the past five years. I have transitioned from being an engineer to being a project manager, and it has been an interesting journey. As an engineering comedian once said, "I didn’t go to engineering school to deal with people." And so was the majority of my career: dealing with mainly physics, math, and engineering design, which I loved. But, at some point in my career, I ultimately realized that mission success came down to people and our interactions with each other. No matter how well-thought out your design, if you don’t communicate it appropriately, and if you don’t interact with your organizational teammates well, it was going to fail. The greater the scale of my projects, the more this became true.

So, this is the truth I want to share with you along with a related truth. I have experienced more joy and fulfillment from team accomplishments than personal achievement. The phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” rings true and brings a certain kind of magic. I hope you get a glimpse of this magic on your eCYBERMISSION team.

Driven by these truths, I have enjoyed being a CyberGuide for the past two years. I am one of many Subject Matter Experts you have access to. I know something about physics, electronics, and automation. You may also have teachers who are Subject Matter Experts on these and other topics. You might have Subject Matter Experts on your team. In all cases, it is your job to discover them, learn how to interact with them, and combine what you learned from them and with what you already know to accomplish your mission. It’s hard work, but I think you will find it worth it.

Let me conclude by restating the above from a different perspective. Make friends with people that have skills and abilities you don’t. Make friends with people who are different than you. It not only makes powerful teams, but it makes great friendships.