ORR Tech Program is ‘Flying High’

When it comes to the evolution of technology and engineering at Old Rochester Regional, the sky’s the limit. Literally.

And the school district and ORR School Committee couldn’t be happier – after all, the ingenuity of some of the engineering students and their teacher has already won the high school $25,000 in prize money that will go towards engineering and technology education at the school.

Back in September, technology teacher MJ Linane’s engineering students expressed an interest in drone technology and developing a drone tech program at the high school.

“I was looking for various sources of funding because, the surprising thing is – or isn’t – [drones] are not cheap,” said Linane.

Linane and his students came up with a proposal to submit to a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) competition called the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, a national competition that challenges students to creatively use STEAM skills to address real-world issues and inspire change in their local communities.

Linane said Superintendent Doug White made Linane aware of the opportunity, and Linane and his students went for it.

The contest encourages students to explore the use of technology to address or solve a community-based issue. One essential characteristic of the Tri-Town, especially in Rochester, is the presence of cranberry growing and its significant economic impact on the region. And with the students’ interest in exploring drone technology, Linane saw the perfect marriage between technology and tradition. The students submitted their proposal and waited to hear back.

In November, they learned that they had been chosen as one of 255 in 3,000 proposals submitted across the country and were one of the five state semi-finalists. In addition to advancing, each of those 255 teachers won a Chromebook for their classroom.

It was time to get to work on their project and bring it to the next level – coming up with an action plan, due December 13. The students waited and, again, “We did hear back,” said Linane. “And sure enough, it was accepted. And with that comes $25,000 in technology that’ll go to the high school.”

ORR High School had done it – it became the state finalist for the nationwide contest.

The next step of the competition is for the 52 national finalists to develop a video of their project in action and develop a prototype for their drone, using a video kit provided by Samsung to produce their video.

“We’re using drones to monitor bogs,” said Linane, stating that this was particularly relevant due the impact of climate change-induced seasonal drought that has affected the cranberry industry. With the use of drones, farmers can implement targeted watering around selective areas of the bogs that are detected as being particularly dry.

“I thought it was fascinating,” Linane said. “It was cool.” The students designed and assembled and piloted drones and worked with local cranberry growers to teach them how to utilize the technology for the benefit of their crops, “developing a very nice relationship with our students [and the community].”

Linane said UMass Dartmouth and the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association have contacted him with interest in partnering with the ORR teacher and his students.

“It’s been really great, a really great experience,” said Linane. “The students are the most excited.”

The students have until February 15 to submit their videos. Out of the 52 schools submitting videos, ten schools will be chosen to compete in the national finals where seven schools will be chosen to win a $50,000 technology package and three will win the top prize of $150,000. Another social media contest based on online votes will determine an additional winner of another technology package valued at $20,000.

“It’s very exciting, very awesome,” said Linane.

The students reached out to not only large-scale local cranberry growers like Makepeace, but also to neighbors and relatives in the community who are cranberry growers.

“It’s an important industry,” Linane said, especially given the impact climate change has had on it. Linane cited a recent state-sponsored study on the matter and finding ways to revitalize the agricultural industry. “So,” added Linane, “very cool.”

By Jean Perry


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