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A STEM-tastic Time!

Submitted by Susan Gillette

Number Ninjas, Radiant Radicals, and Atom Attackers – these were the names of just a few of the all-girl teams that converged at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia on February 8, 2014, for the fourth annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Summit sponsored by K2M, Inc.  K2M is the largest privately held spinal device company in the world focused on the research, development, and commercialization of innovative solutions for the treatment of complex spinal problems. It was here that eight qualified young ladies from R-MA joined a group of over 80 girls in the high school portion of the competition. “Knights of Pi” were represented by Paige Hollis ’15, Ixel Ochoa ’15, Madeleine Oram ’15, and Shelby Sebring ’15.  “Stoichiometry Stars” included Alice Gong ’16, Lizzie Ma ’15, Meghan Melberg ’16, Amy Wang ’16. Participants included 44 teams from 22 public and independent schools in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, and all teams engaged in this STEM-focused competition. It was a fun and challenging event which highlighted brilliant females, who traditionally are underrepresented in this field. 


In addition to R-MA, the competition included teams from Georgetown Visitation  (Washington DC), Academy of Science (Sterling, VA), Loudoun Valley High (Purcellville, VA), Madeira School (McLean, VA), Middleburg Academy and Foxcroft School (Middleburg, VA).

The day began when the high school teams gathered for an introduction and the opening remarks at 9:15 a.m. in Englehard Gymnasium, following which the teams of girls then began their rotations through four different challenges created by Foxcroft’s faculty and one challenge developed by the K2M Senior Biomedical Engineers, who were sponsors of the STEM Summit.  These challenges included:

“Turning Over a New Leaf” (Biology) – Students had to identify leaves and needles using a dichotomous key.

“All Mixed Up” (Chemistry) – This challenge involved identifying six unknown mixtures by putting them through reactions with acetone, vinegar, mineral oil, and water.

“Holy Roller” (Physics) – Students were provided with a length of insulated foam tubing that was cut in half lengthwise, pieces of duct tape, and a marble.  The challenge was to design a roller coaster with at least one hill from which a marble could be launched.  The winning score was calculated by multiplying the height of the hill and the distance that the marble travelled.

“Who Killed Cal Culus?” (Math) –  Students were provided with pieces of evidence and had to use different math equations to determine time of death, body temperature, and shoe size of suspects to ultimately determine who committed the crime. 

“Playing Doctor:  Building a Spinal Construct”  – Students were given a human x-ray depicting spinal scoliosis along with a sheet of specifications for different materials.  The challenge was to design a spinal construct by calculating the Cobb angle and incorporate the weight load of each material along with the provided safety factors.

Attendees also were eligible for individual prizes by submitting responses to a variety of brainteasers and math/science problems that were made available during the breaks. A buffet of snacks, beverages, and a light lunch was provided by our very gracious hosts from Foxcroft.

The high school competition came to a close during midday when medals were awarded to winners of each individual challenge and the top-scoring team overall.  R-MA’s Stoichiometry Stars were awarded the medal for achieving the highest score in “Playing Doctor:  Building a Spinal Construct”.

Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12.  Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.