SFHS Students Win Governor’s STEM Challenge

Lincoln Byrd

A group of four Santa Fe students, all junior girls, are state champions in the New Mexico Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Challenge.

On Dec. 7, Faith Miller, Bella Root, Olivia Nguyen, and Madilyn Johnson travelled to Los Lunas High School to compete in the Statewide STEM Showcase. The girls competed with more than 40 teams from across the state, all of whom brought the original projects they had developed to the competition.

Santa Fe High’s team developed a biopolymer to address the problem of plastic accumulation in the environment. Their biopolymer acted as an alternative for plastic made out of starch and glycerin with HCl as a catalyst in order to form a pliable polymer that is completely bio-based. 

Each member of the group received a $500 reward along with a state champion banner that will be hung up in the gym. 

While the students did the bulk of the work, they received help from computer science teacher Mr. Smith as their group manager/supervisor, and chemistry teacher Mr. Buschman, who supplied materials and support in developing the biopolymer.

According to Mr. Smith, the purpose of the Governor’s STEM Challenge is to connect high school students to STEM-based companies operating in the state that could give them career opportunities. 

“There are a lot of high tech industries in New Mexico. You have the Los Alamos National Labs, Sandia Labs, INTEL, Boeing, Chevron, etc. These STEM-based companies that operate in New Mexico are having trouble recruiting local workers,” Mr. Smith said . “So the STEM challenge was designed by the governor as a way to showcase student STEM projects and also to try to connect them with local employers who could offer them jobs, interviews, etc.”

The group’s interest in STEM was the main inspiration for their hard work and commitment throughout the first semester on their project, despite having school and extracurricular activities. 

“Bella [Root] was telling me about [the challenge] and I thought it would be an interesting thing to work on, especially since the subject was mainly science,” said group member Faith Miller on her motivation for doing the project. However, managing it on top of other things wasn’t the easiest task to pull off.

“Honestly it was really stressful,” she said. “I would wake up, go to school all day, go to play rehearsal until 7 p.m., then go to hockey practice till 9 p.m., and then come home and do homework, so it was a lot,” she added. 

Olivia and Madilyn weren’t able to travel to the competition because of a symphonic orchestra rehearsal, and Bella and Faith had to take their own vehicle back early because they were part of the school play. However, they were able to still able to come out on top despite the conflicting activities. 

“I think by doing all the outside stuff and being able to accomplish what we did with the STEM project made it that much more rewarding,” concluded Faith.