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Loudoun students innovating well beyond their years—U.S. Navy takes notice

The championship team from Loudoun’s Academy of Science. Courtesy Photo
A group of Loudoun students have caught the eye of the U.S. Navy by coming up with a solution to real-world search and rescue needs.

The team from Loudoun County Public Schools' Academy of Science – the AGNI team including Joseph Chang, Michelle Molina, Samuel Ong, Daniel Pham, David Zhang and Josef Zimmerman (Sundar Thirukkurungudi) – scooped first place in the finals of a “Student-Led Ideation Challenge” developed by the non-profit Innovative Solutions Consortium, (ISC) and run in partnership with the Virginia Department of Education.

The competition gave teams of students from across the commonwealth the chance to explore real-world problems and offer solutions to issues facing education, agriculture/forestry and unmanned aviation vehicles (UAV) like drones. The championship took place at Virginia Commonwealth University last month with 21 teams from eight school divisions competing.

The Loudoun County team won State Championship for the UAV/drone challenge category, which was identified as a real U.S. Army area of need.

The Department of Defense judges were so impressed with the local team's idea they are exploring ways to fund development of the solution, which is related to a search and rescue need for U.S. Navy ships and submarines. Specifics of the design are being kept under wraps in case the U.S. military implements the proposal.

Innovative Solutions Consortium, the organization behind the challenge, was set up in Loudoun County six years ago by founder Ken Spedden. Since then its reach has grown right across Virginia and beyond.

“We are all volunteers, we all have regular jobs. We were thinking how can we create an environment where we collaborate together to solve different challenges we face as a community and nation,” Spedden said.

Students taking part in the challenge were given a problem statement that education, agriculture or defense specialists identified as needing a solution.

Using a technology platform, students put forward submissions that were scrutinized by experts. The groups deemed as having the best suggestions were invited to take part in the competition.

The first-place team in each category won $3,000 and the opportunity to talk with venture capitalists from Silicon Valley. Second-place and third-place teams received $1,500. All winners have the opportunity to build their prototypes with support and resources from industry experts and to present those prototypes to interested organizations and industry experts.

“Innovation is more than just the solution, it's what happens to the participants through the process,” Spedden said. “Some of the feedback we received was from students saying the process really taught me how to manage my time, and, I met my new best friends.”

ISC was recognized by the White House last year as one of the top initiatives for impact.

The consortium is ambitious in its aims. This year members of the public have the opportunity to put forward solutions to the same real life problems presented to students.

Citizens are invited to design a small UAV with autonomous navigation or to put forward ways to better protect forests and monitor land use.

The top three proposed solutions to each challenge will have an opportunity to meet virtually with stakeholders and venture capitalists.

You can find out more at http://www.isc-connect.org/uav-forestry-challenge/

“We are unlocking brilliance in creativity,” Spedden said. “These are game-changing initiatives. We're unlocking people's abilities. Loudoun is leading the way.”


Very cool. Congratulations Loudoun Academy of Science!

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