Nick Cion, Annie Harnick, Lexa Koenig, Kat Krieger and Lena Ziskin — all seniors at Staples — won that school’s inaugural Spectacular Student Challenge.
By figuring out which of 3 different strategies — actually, a combination of all 3 — would make Westport greener, they earned the praise of judges, plus the satisfaction of knowing their 12 hours of work could help create a more environmentally friendly town.
Oh yeah. They also won $5,000.
Despite having to plow through a PhD-level question — then research, analyze, synthesize and present their findings in a time frame that would stress a post-doc — the winners took a balanced approach to their task.
They enjoyed a sitdown lunch from Tengda, and also spent a few minutes in the fieldhouse, cheering Staples’ indoor track team at their championship meet. “We didn’t fry our brains,” Nick says, counterintuitively.
But they must have done something right.
“We saw the importance of innovation, but we also knew we needed a plan that was catchy, accessible, and would appeal to the public at large,” he adds, explaining his group’s success.
They concluded that a 3-pronged strategy is needed. Solar panels at Staples and Bedford, and carbon reduction would help a bit; so would community-supported agriculture. But household changes are necessary too.
The group seized on a Brazilian initiative — peeing in the shower to reduce flushes — and estimated that if every Westporter did that once a day, we’d save 11 million gallons of water a year. That got the judges’ notice (as well as anyone who pees).
After earning finalist status, the team practiced their presentation for a full day. Other groups were math oriented, but Team 102 focused on communication skills.
“We wanted a presentation that we would want to hear,” Nick says. “We didn’t talk about numbers; we talked about why all this was important.”
Going into the final presentation, the group had no idea what to expect. They were eager to see how other teams — some of them veterans of the similar, but math-heavy, Moody’s Mega-Challenge — did. When the night was over, they felt they’d done well — and were glad their tack was different.
Last Friday, Nick was awakened at 10:20 a.m. — hey, it was a snow day — with word from Kat that their group had won. He was thrilled, then promptly fell back asleep.
On Monday, Team 102 will accept congratulations — and a fake check — at the Board of Education meeting.
As for the carryover effect of the contest, Nick says: “I’m already following the household tips we came up with. It’s amazing how easy it is.” (Yes, all of them.)
And — for Team 102 — how lucrative.