In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NJSPN, in partnership with the South Jersey STEM & Innovation Partnership
(SJSIP) STEM learning ecosystem, launched the #NJSTEMTogether Communities Challenge. This engineering design team challenge was open to all New Jersey high school students where they had to identify and design a solution to a problem that their community was facing due to the pandemic. Students presented their solution to state elected officials and industry professionals. Student designs were judged during New Jersey STEM Month (March). First Prize was awarded $2,000, Second Prize $1,500 and Third $1,000.

“The idea that I could have a chance to work with my peers to try and help out companies and businesses in this pandemic really drove me to sign up to participate in this Challenge.”

Challenge participants took Pear Institute’s Common Instrument Suite (CIS), a self-report survey that measures 21st century skills and SEL and a variety of (STEM)-related attitudes, including STEM engagement, STEM career knowledge, and STEM identity.

  • 52% of the students were girls
  • 52% of the participants were Asian American and Latino or Hispanic
  • 62% said English was not their primary language
  • 65% found a positive change in their 21st century skills
  • 90% found a positive change in their critical thinking
  • 86% found a positive change on their STEM engagement
  • 70% found a positive change on their STEM Enjoyment
  • 80% found a positive change on their STEM career interest
  • 65% found a positive change on their STEM identity

More than 40% of students increased their desire for a STEM job in the future compared to before the Challenge.

“I like mentoring sessions. I think it really helped us and we had the opportunity to talk with experts.”

“The students learned about how projects are funded, how legislation can be used to free up public funds for projects and programs and how STEM technologies can be used to solve real world problems. They learned about how intelligent airflow systems can be used to decrease contamination of an indoor space, how UV light and HEPA filtration can remove and disinfect virus particles from the air, and how an
algorithm can be used to assess and measure the theoretical effectiveness of a solution.”