Students from Trenton Central High School were “carmakers” for a day when they participated in the Build It Better (BiB) Design Challenge, a program created to spark interest in STEM and entrepreneurship among pre-college students. The challenge, held Jan. 24 at Trenton Central, was a joint effort of Piscataway Public Library, educational firm MacEwan Consulting and Dream It. Do It., which works to educate teachers, guidance counselors and parents about manufacturing as a career option for students. The Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network, also known as ManufactureNJ and hosted at and managed by NJIT, organized the event, which drew 20 students split into four competing teams.

For the design challenge, students were tasked with designing, budgeting for and building rubberband-powered cars, and then racing them to test performance. They also developed marketing presentations and made four-minute sales pitches to a panel of judges, similar in format to “Shark Tank.” The panel included Eric E. Jackson, mayor of Trenton, and Scott Mele, president of Tektite Industries, a Trenton-based manufacturing firm.

“The Build It Better Challenge proved Trenton has incredibly talented students. During the competition, students overcame limited resources and time with teamwork, problem-solving and creativity skills that will give them a competitive edge in their careers,” remarked Mayor Jackson. “I am proud to support the Trenton Public School District in their STEM education efforts and thank [Dream It. Do It.] for bringing the Build It Better challenge to Trenton.”

“We utilized the Build It Better Design Challenge as a one-day competition to bridge experience in areas of both STEM and entrepreneurship,” added Scott Munro, chairman of the STEM Academy at Trenton Central. “Build It Better has a low threshold of investment with a huge return on 21st century career-ready practices, including rapid prototyping, design, fiscal management and teamwork. Being able to provide a meaningful hands-on STEM activity is so gratifying, but seeing the students exceed our expectations and successfully apply the skills we work on daily…priceless.”

Mayor Eric E. Jackson (center) of Trenton with the Build It Better Design Challenge judges, organizers and student participants.

Trenton Central was the first school to participate in this design challenge in 2017. Other schools statewide scheduled to take part include High Point Regional High School in Sussex, Mercer County Technical Schools, Middletown High School North, New Brunswick High School, North Bergen High School STEM Academy, Piscataway Public High School, and both West Side High School and Technology High School in Newark. Organizers intend to make the design challenge an annual event and hope to have a state championship that brings together all the winning teams.

“The program has received critical acclaim from participants as well as school leaders and parents,” said Raymond Vaccari, director of the ManufactureNJ Talent Network. “This is a simple, engaging, fun and productive event for students, parents and educators.”

The BiB program is part of the overall Dream It. Do It. initiative, which supports the MechaFORCE Registered Internship Manufacturing program. ManufactureNJ, funded since 2011 by the NJ State Department of Labor and Workforce Development, partners with MechaFORCE, a statewide program also run by NJIT, in helping to train and augment the manufacturing workforce in New Jersey.

For more information on ManufactureNJ, visit continuing.njit.edu/talent-network.