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Wake County Middle and High School Students Combine Math, Entrepreneurship During First Annual Design & Pitch Competition

More than 50 students embraced their entrepreneurial spirit earlier this month during the first annual Wake County Public School System Design & Pitch Competition held at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation

Led by NC State College of Education Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Erin Krupa and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education Robin Anderson, the event saw 55 students from seven Wake County middle and high schools pitch solutions to eight different real-world challenges rooted in mathematics topics. 

Pitches presented during the April 6 event ranged from sustainability issues such as making gas pumps cleaner through the use of recycled materials and creating sustainable water bottles from bamboo to addressing mental health struggles among teens and creating an app to aid in charitable donations. 

A first-, second- and third-place team from both the middle and high school levels were selected by a panel of 15 volunteer judges. The winning high school team, from Wake STEM Early College, developed a maps application to help users find hidden gems within their communities while they travel rather than just taking the fastest route to their destination. The winning middle school team, from Reedy Creek Middle School, designed a business that would build a network of solar-powered charging stations to make it easier and more environmentally friendly for drivers to charge their electric vehicles.

“Initially, students were very nervous and unsure how the day would go. However, we saw them build confidence during their initial pitches into the community showcase. They really showed how they were the experts on the solutions’ they designed. Students were happy to listen to other teams and eager to celebrate each groups’ accomplishments,” Krupa said. “Parents and guardians were very proud of the teams that pitched their ideas, judges were immensely impressed with the student ideas and teachers were grateful for the opportunity and proud of their teams.”

The event was part of a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant-funded project that has Krupa and Anderson developing challenges rooted in secondary mathematics curricula that 

encourage students to build, test and refine prototype STEM products, design business plans to demonstrate product viability and pitch their products to a panel of judges. Educational materials created as part of the project were recognized in 2022 with an International Society for Technology in Education’s Best of STEM Award.

Krupa and Anderson are currently in the process of completing development for nine new high school-level challenges to complete a suite of 18 total Design & Pitch challenges across the middle and high school curricula. As they continue to study the use of these challenges in schools and support teachers using the materials in class, they are also planning the fourth annual free Entrepreneurial High School Math Summer Camp.

“These events are not only important for students, as they build confidence in sharing their ideas, but also for parents, teachers and the community because students have powerful ideas to share that make the world a more hopeful place,” Krupa said. “These events also help students learn new STEM content and technology, and they grow their ideas when they share them beyond the walls of their own schools.”