Desert Wind team competes in national construction challenge

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Students from Desert Wind Middle School got to apply their engineering techniques against the best in the nation last week at the Construction Challenge Championship Finals.

The team of eight-graders — consisting of Courtnee Soltes, Samantha Martinez, Mikyle Madrid, Abraham Perez, Michael Gilchrist and Parker Keime — along with teacher Mike Bertrand, traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., to compete in three challenges that tested the students’ math, science and problem-solving skills.

“The middle schoolers were doing the same thing as the high schoolers and the same thing as the college students,” Bertrand said. “It’s very, very competitive.”

The Construction Challenge is sponsored by the American Equipment Manufacturers as a way to spark children’s interest in engineering and examine their aptitude in the field. The contest has strict rules against interference from the team’s instructors throughout the process.

“They don’t want people coaching them and giving them suggestions,” Bertrand said. “They want to know what these kids can come up with.”

The first of the challenges involved giving a presentation on a plan to address a local infrastructure issue. The Desert Wind team picked the hot-button topic of easing the traffic flow on state Route 347 at the railroad crossing. The students determined the intersection needed an arch bridge to carry cars over the tracks below.

The other two challenges centered around the use of a remote-controlled vehicle built by the team, which in they had to channel the flow of water into specific tanks using various building materials and also move and restack cardboard boxes as high as possible atop a platform.

While the Desert Wind team finished in 14th place, Bertrand said the experience the students gained far outweighed any points or praises from the judges. He was most pleased about how the eighth-graders worked together and kept their cool during what can be a heated and stressful competition.

“They picked up the pace so well,” he said. “They had their heads and their hands in the entire game and no one gave up.”

The trip to the University of Tennessee was the first time many of the students had been outside Arizona, and Bertrand noted the change of scenery and the university setting started getting them thinking about the possibility of going to college.

“It really opened their eyes to so many things,” he said.

Photo submitted by Mike Bertrand