Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, in partnership with the National Youth Science Foundation, awarded over $13,000 to middle and high school students at the first annual BRITE Challenge. 

Held on May 6 at the National Youth Science Center in Davis, the challenge showcased 19 teams’ Business Startup Ideas or STEM Innovations inspired by state-of-the-art equipment donated to classrooms as part of Eastern’s Makerspace Project, which was implemented in the 2021-2022 school year.  

More than 60 students in fifth through 12th grades presented their innovative ideas to a panel of five experienced entrepreneurs and educators. An overall grand prize was awarded for each category, along with first-, second- and third-place winners across four different age groups. 

The grand prize in the STEM Innovation category was awarded to Hannah Hamric, Mackenzie Kitzmiller and Jacob Jones from Petersburg High School, who proposed to create smart devices to assist blind people in navigating to their desired destination.

In the Business Startup Idea category, William Wojtowic, from Moorefield High School, received the grand prize for a proposed gaming company called Infinite Gaming. The mission of the gaming company is to build and sell high-end custom gaming computers at an affordable price. 

“I really enjoyed observing the enthusiasm, potential and talent of the next generation” stated Victoria Weeks, former science media producer and filmmaker for NASA who sat on the judicial panel alongside retired Delta Force Colonel and mayor of Davis, Alan Tomson. 

“It was a privilege to do the judging,” Tomson said. “I continue to be impressed by today’s youth.”

The MakerSpace project has donated equipment such as 3D printers, CNC routers, drones, coding robots and renewable energy demonstration kits to schools in the Potomac Highlands region over the last year. After being trained to use the equipment by Maker Fellow Maya Paul, teachers worked with their students to generate innovative and entrepreneurial ideas using the latest technologies made available to them in the BRITE Challenge.

“My students loved being part of the competition,” stated Linda Carlson, science teacher at Petersburg High School. “I really appreciate the opportunities the MakerSpace project brought them and me as their teacher.” 

The MakerSpace project is supported with funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

“We are very appreciative of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which has allowed us to provide support to empower educators with hands-on technologies in the classroom to advance student learning, inspire creativity, and engage in the possibility for these students to become future entrepreneurs,” said Megan Webb, Eastern’s Dean of Advancement and Continuing Education. “We’ve really made a positive impact on students by encouraging them to develop innovations to solve problems and launch their educational pathway and future career.” 

In addition to providing equipment to schools in the Potomac Highlands, 3D printers have been donated to public libraries in Grant, Hardy, Hampshire, Mineral, Pendleton, and Tucker counties.  

“MakerSpace helps provide the bridge on applying academic knowledge to solving real-world problems,” said Robert Burns, Director of Non-Profits at Eastern. “By having these programs in our school systems, we are creating the future workforce and leaders that will create the communities in which we will live and thrive.”