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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:11:29 12:13:45

From left: William Francis, lead designer; David Wilce; Jared Yates, project leader; and Sam Hartman.

A few young innovators at Riverside Junior-Senior High School are in contention for a major prize.

Four students in teacher Chris Feerrar’s graphic arts class were recently chosen as one of five groups of finalists from Pennsylvania in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.

The students — William Francis, David Wilce, Jared Yates and Sam Hartman — were chosen on account of their current project creating pet wheelchairs from parts produced in the school’s 3-D printer.

Overall, the group is among 250 national finalists in the contest, which according to Samsung, “challenges students in grades 6-12 to apply STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to find creative solutions to real-world issues impacting their local communities.”

Feerrar and the students are already assured a Samsung tablet for their classroom and have the opportunity to win more significant prizes as the contest advances onward. Overall, three national winners will be chosen, with each receiving $100,000 worth of Samsung technology and supplies for the classroom.

“The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest showcases the talents of student innovators who are identifying and addressing issues impacting their individual communities,” said Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship at Samsung Electronics America, in a press release. “We are inspired by the desire of these students to ignite lasting change in their communities and look forward to seeing how their STEM projects unfold in the coming months.”

Feerrar said he came up with the idea for the pet wheelchairs while watching the news one day.

“I said to the students, ‘What do you think? Maybe we can make these things and donate them to the local pet rescues,’” Feerrar said. “So, I contacted several rescues. The SPCA said they would love to have several different sizes, and the woman who runs the rescue at Nay Aug Park told me she has a hard time finding ones for cats.”

Currently, the students are working on the prototype, which will be for average-sized dogs and have adjustable capabilities. In addition to the plastic parts from the 3-D printer, the wheelchairs will be composed of PVC pipe, as well as dog leashes and collars that will be used to secure the animal in the chair.

“We’re hoping to have the prototype done by Christmas break. We’re making big progress,” Feerrar said. “Then, we’ll mess with different sizes and try to work out all the kinks. With 3D printing, it takes hours to print the parts, because until you hold the part in your hand you can’t see where the errors are.”

The students are enjoying the project’s myriad challenges.

“This whole thing has been a great opportunity,” said Yates, the project leader. “It is challenging sometimes to get that exact perfect size down, but it’s a lot of fun.”

“Each time we print, we get closer and closer. Then when they fit, it’s very satisfying,” added Francis, the project’s lead designer. “And it’s great we’re making something that will benefit dogs with disabilities. It will be great to see pet owners’ faces and for them to say, ‘Wow, they did this for us.’ That’s the reaction I want to get.”

Feerrar noted that in addition to leading the project, Jared and William are helping him develop the class curriculum.

“That way, they get to leave a lasting impression on the course,” he said. “Here, you’ve got kids who are able to problem solve and work through issues. You’re giving them real-life experiences that they will eventually encounter in the workplace.”

The students will soon find out if they’re moving on to the next phase of the contest. Samsung will be judging their activity plan on the following criteria: problem applicability, community involvement/impact, application of STEM studies and feasibility and originality.

“No matter what happens, just being one of five schools in the state is a significant accomplishment,” Feerrar said. “I have great kids. I’ve been a very lucky teacher.”