Henson students’ prosthetic arm wins state competition
Team to compete in MESA nationals in late June
Hard work and preparation came in “handy” for Matthew Henson Middle Schools’ Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement prosthetic arm team, which won the statewide MESA competition. The team will now represent Maryland in the National MESA competition, which will be held June 23-25 at Weber State University in
“I am immensely proud of this group of students, their hard work and their teamwork,” said Henson Principal Christina Caballero.
Maryland MESA is a structured, pre-college program for children in grades 3 to 12, designed to prepare students for academic and professional careers in mathematics, engineering, science and technology, according to the Maryland MESA website.
The state competition was held May 19 at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. Several Charles County teams competed — and Dr. James Craik Elementary School, Milton Somers Middle School and Westlake High School also placed in the competition. But Henson was the only Charles County school to take overall winner and advance to the MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition later this month.
Each competing team was provided a kit of basic electronic components and had to design and program its own prosthetic arm to complete two tasks, said eighth grader Shelby Hiens, 14, one of the team members.
“In one, you’re moving objects on a table with the prosthetic, and with the other, you’re throwing hackey-sacks into a goal on the floor,” Hiens said.
Brian Palko, sponsor for the team, said he performed the soldering for the prosthetic arm, but the design and programming work was done entirely by the students.
“The thing I helped with most was the actual construction of the arm, because they can’t use power tools so I would do the cutting, but they did everything else by themselves,” Palko said.
Students also had to put together a poster board presentation and make a technical presentation to the judges, said eighth grader Justin Stewart, 14.
“We had to explain our design process,” Stewart said.
Palko said that on the presentation portion of the competition, “they blew them out of the park,” resulting in the first place win.
“It took all of our knowledge to make that because of the fact that it covered so many areas of the project,” Hiens said.
Eighth grader Simone McCarter-Dodzie, 14, said that when they arrived at the state competition, they discovered their prosthetic arm didn’t meet the judges’ specifications, requiring quick modifications.
“When we got there, they told us that the button portion of our arm wasn’t allowed. So we had five minutes to change everything, and use the button in a different way so it was OK for the competition,” McCarter-Dodzie said.
Sixth grader Charles Martin, 12, said he originally joined to take part in the MESA hover board challenge.
“I thought that was going to be interesting, but when I heard of the prosthetic arm, I thought that was way better, so I decided to join prosthetic arm [team],” Martin said.
Hiens said she has an interest in math and science and joined MESA to put that interest to work on a team project.
“It really interested me that I could build something with a group of people and collaborating together to do something that matters,” Hiens said.
Martin said the engineering skills he learned are important, but even more so are the team skills.
“The biggest thing I’d learned from the experience was teamwork and working together with other people,” Martin said.
Hiens said that she planned to go into an engineering field.
“Originally, I wanted to be a petroleum engineer, but now I’m not so sure,” Hiens said. “Now I might want to go into robotics engineering, or cyber-engineering.”
McCarter-Dodzie said she was most looking forward to the learning experience of participating in the national MESA competition.
“Seeing the other arms and the other competitors, we can definitely learn from what the other teams have done, and maybe next year they can improve on our arm,” McCarter-Dodzie said.
Caballero said she was impressed by the amount of work the students put into their project.
“This is a really dynamic group of individuals,” Caballero said. “They had some challenges, in which they had to make some adjustments, but it was in the midst of this that their teamwork and perseverance, and being able to focus on the task at hand, that got them the win.”
From left, Matthew Henson Middle School MESA sponsor Brian Palko, prosthetic arm team members Simone McCarter-Dodzie, Shelby Hiens, Charles Martin and Justin Stewart, and sponsor Kaitlyn Whitfield, with the first place trophies the team won in the county and state MESA competitions.