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  • Mara Soloway

Crockett Middle School Students Recognized for Their STEM Achievements

Three eighth-grade girls earned the chance to present their design for a life-saving electronic device at a national competition

(L-R) Ivanie Leslie, Katelyn Johnson and Alyssa Johnson were among the 50 top finalistsselected to present their project design at the ProjectCSGIRLS national competition in June.

by Mara Soloway

First published September 2018 in Lifestyles & Homes Magazine

An electronic device designed to save the lives of babies left in hot vehicles could someday be on the market. While it seems that this idea would come from the minds of Silicon Valley engineers, the prototype for the ABC Baby Bracelet is the brainchild of three female students, who were in David Crockett Middle School’s eighth grade Project Lead the Way/Gateway to Technology class. The girls were a team with ProjectCSGIRLS, which holds the world’s largest computer science and technology contest for middle school girls.

In the 2016-17 school year, students Ivanie Leslie, Alyssa Johnson and Katelyn Johnson began work on a safety device that would alert parents if their small children showed early signs of heat stroke. In that year’s district competition round, they finished as semi-finalists. In the 2017-18 school year, the eighth graders advanced as finalists representing Fort Bend ISD in the ProjectCSGIRLS competition.

In May,they found out they were among the top 50 finalists in the nation – one of only four teams from Texas and the only one from Fort Bend ISD – to advance to the national finals, a first for the district and the Houston area. Traveling to Washington, D.C.this June, Ivanie ,Katelyn and Alyssa presented their bracelet design at the ProjectCSGIRLS’ National Gala to the judges, who are women engineers, entrepreneurs and business leaders from leading technology companies.

Richard Embrick, the girls’ teacher, is Fort Bend ISD’s robotics facilitator and recently won the 2018 National Science Teacher Association Shell Science Teaching Award and the 2018 Charles Pickett Educator of the Year for the State of Texas Award. He is working to expand robotic and engineering classes to all middle school campuses in Fort Bend ISD.

Embrick says more than 30 percent of girls at Crockett take STEM classes and he hopes to raise the percentage at other schools. Although he credits critical funding grants from Nalco Ecolabs ($3,000), the Fort Bend Education Foundation and other sources ($70,000 total), he also credits the girls.

“They did all this by themselves – they came up with idea and used existing technology to code their product and write the 10-page technical report. The PLTW/Gateway to Technology class teaches them problem solving, and they’re on top of their game,” Embrick said.

The students were the first African-American and Hispanic female students to reach the national ProjectCSGIRLS competition as finalists.

The girls’ original idea was sparked by a comment made by Ivanie’s mom. “She saw on the news that children were dying in cars and that really affected her. I talked to Alyssa and Katelyn about the problem, and we decided it was a good problem to face,” Ivanie said.

In 2017-18, the girls expanded on the initial concept of protecting babies from dying of heat stroke. “For this year’s competition, we added a way to monitor the baby’s heart that has a sound device so when the baby gets agitated, the device will sound an alarm for heart rate like it does for heat stroke,” Alyssa said.

The prototype bracelet currently uses temperature, audio and other sensors to provide real-time data such as respiration rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure, similar to popular exercise products. But this bracelet provides more: built-in GPS tracking, auto-dialer, Bluetooth and cloudBit hardware that allow the bracelet to communicate remotely with a companion app created by the students. The final miniaturized product would be similar in form to a Fitbit or Apple watch, encased in a material comfortable enough for the baby to wear while connecting via the app to the parents’ phone.

Each member of the ProjectCSGIRLS team takes on the role of either mechanical, electrical or computer engineer, switching roles for each project. Alyssa completed the technical report detailing the bracelet’s properties, Ivanie worked on hardware prototyping and Katelyn focused on coding the app that will give notifications about the temperature and vitals from the ABC Baby Bracelet. “It basically just checks how your baby is, and then if anything does go wrong it will notify you to take action,” Katelyn said. Should the baby’s vital signs remain critical, the app will use its auto-dialer feature to alert first responders, transmitting the child’s status and location.

As part of the submission to enter the contest at the national level, the students also created an animation with MIT Scratch, giving the judges an overview of the device’s functionality. Ivanie created and managed the blog, and designed an animation and YouTube video. For ninth grade,Ivanie is attending Bush High School while Alyssa and Katelyn attend Travis. “After what we’ve gone through in the whole competition thing, I don’t think we’ll ever lose touch,” Alyssa said. All intend to pursue engineering or science careers: Ivanie wants to work in an electronics field after college; Katelyn is interested in electrical engineering; and Alyssa sees herself as a veterinarian, involved in creating medicine for animals. While they didn’t place in the top five in the national competition, Ivanie, Katelyn and Alyssa found the experience to be amazing. They have opportunities for further achievement in STEM.

And they have broken several barriers in fields that are underrepresented both by people of color and females: the students were the first African-American and Hispanic female students to reach the ProjectCSGIRLS national competition as finalists. “Ifeel a great sense of pride, being one of the first African-American students to make it as a finalist,” Alyssa said. “The ProjectCSGIRLS trip really inspired me to give back to future engineers. I hope to inspire more African-American females to follow their dreams.”


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