From After School Programs to the Google Science Fair: 3 Incredible Stories of 3 Young Makers

Every now and then teachers become tired, our passion starts to dwindle, and we wonder if we’re even making a difference in student’s lives. And what about our after school programs? Sometimes it’s hard to feel motivated when only two kids show up every week. Seasoned teachers are familiar with this feeling, and they’ll offer you sound wisdom: push through the uninspired, tired seasons and work hard to pour your love of learning into all of your students; they’ll thank you for it later. If you motivate and inspire your students to make great things, they will! Need some inspiration for yourself? We rounded up three cool stories about students who started out as after school enthusiasts and eventually went on to earn recognition at the Google Science Fair amongst other impressive accomplishments. After school programs matter, and these students prove it!


Source: Scientific American

Source: Scientific American

Environmental Science Club to Science in Action Award Winners

Sakhiwe Shongwe put it bluntly in their project’s introduction page: “my exposure to science fair activities in Swaziland is very narrow,” but he took every opportunity he had available to him by “participating in Environmental Clubs and voluntary work in many community projects..”

Taking advantage of the seemingly small opportunities offered to them, Sakhiwe Shongwe, then 14, and Bonkhe Mahlalela, also 14 at the time, pursued science passionately and went on to win the Scientific American Science in Action Award in the 2012 Google Science Fair!

Their project was originally inspired by Mahlalela’s family not being able to farm enough food for themselves for an entire year. The problem is common in Swaziland, and the pair wanted to find a way to farm that would ensure people would have enough food to eat all year, and also create a farming method that would take less of a toll on the environment.

Their proposed solution was to develop “a Unique Simplified Hydroponics Method (USHM), to grow vegetables using local waste organic matter as growing medium and used waste cartons as garden containers. We then dissolved nutrients in chicken manure, into the water used for watering.”

Long story short, they did it! According to their results, “the USHM increases population of crops in a given area by over 140% on average,” “yield produced by 38% per unit area of land,” and they reduced “time taken to harvest by 35%.” What’s next for these Swazi eco-farmers? “With the help of our mentor, we are planning to take the next phase of our project to educate, encourage and support community members to use the USHM in crop production, that is, taking the experiment to the real world.” That’s amazing!




Near Space Program to Global Finalist

Matthew Reid was not only a member of an after school program before becoming a Google Science Fair Global Finalist, but also had proposed (and went on to manage) his school’s “Near Space Program.” He saw a need in his school for astronomy enthusiasts and decided to take the initiative to start up a program.

Custom board w/ ATmega328 and integrated EPS

Custom board w/ ATmega328 and integrated EPS

Eventually, he noticed another need, but this one was on a universal scale. He sought to create a satellite made of entirely commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components that would “function in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), while providing 50% of its internal volume for additional payload capacity.” And in an incredible project that he hoped would make space research more accessible, he did it!

While his model had yet to fly in space, he wrote at the end of his experiment that “the engineering model of the satellite functions well within its given capacity…This leads me to believe that the flight model will work just as well but with an increased efficiency, due to the integration of components.” Did we mention that this Englishman was only 14 years old at the time he became a Global Finalist? Impressive!




Robotics Team to Google Technologist Award

Girish Kumar, who was 17 when he earned recognition at the Google Science Fair, started his robotics journey when he was only eight years old by joining his school’s robotics team. Eventually, he won Singapore’s national science talent search and then went on to win the Google Technologist Award in the 2015 Google Science Fair with a project that could automatically generate questions from educational texts.

Did he manage to do that? Yep.

Kumar managed to create a program to generate review questions from any digital text to help both students and teachers bear a lesser load. Making studying simpler but still effective? Great idea!

Surely you’re as impressed as we are by these students’ achievements. Hopefully after reading about their stories, you feel excited to go to school, encourage your students to develop a love of learning, and teach them to pursue “why.” Please remember: you are making a difference! 

Thanks for everything you do, teachers! 

RoboTerra Inc.