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A Challenge Within a Challenge: Conducting PennDOT’s Innovations Challenge Judging During a Pandemic

June 02, 2020 09:00 AM
By: Danielle Klinger-Grumbine

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​Each year, PennDOT's Innovations Challenge invites teams of high school students in ninth through 12th grades to use their problem-solving, creative, and strategic-thinking abilities to solve real-world transportation challenges. This year's challenge was no different, except for the challenge of determining how to conduct statewide judging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third annual challenge asked students to look at cost-effective technologies and innovative methods, aside from laws and educational campaigns, that can be developed in the next five to 10 years to help PennDOT more efficiently, effectively and safely control litter along roadways. 

More than 70 submissions were received from high schools across the state. Regional judging events were held at PennDOT district offices earlier this year, determining the 11 regional winning teams that would move on to be judged at the statewide level.

With schools closed and the panel of judges teleworking, PennDOT's Bureau of Innovations (BOI) quickly identified options to move forward with the statewide judging and recognize the regional winning teams for their efforts in developing these innovative solutions. Coordinating with the respective faculty advisors, BOI was able to provide each team's essay and presentation materials electronically to the judging panel for independent reviews and scoring. 

With their “Pennsylvania Trashout" website and mobile application to motivate and award prizes to individuals who pick up trash, the team from Monroe Career & Technical Institute in PennDOT's Engineering District 5 was announced as this year's challenge winner. 

The teams from Seneca Valley High School in PennDOT's Engineering District 10 and Reach Cyber Charter School in PennDOT's Engineering District 8 finished in second and third place, respectively. The Seneca Valley High School team proposed “Litter Gitters," or specialized trash receptacles that are installed at strategic locations for motorists to dispose of trash. The Reach Cyber Charter School submitted their “Litter Impact" mobile application to get individuals involved in community cleanup in a fun way. 

The winning school will be awarded an engraved Plexiglas trophy, and the winning team members will divide a $1,500 scholarship from the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful organization and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association. The second-place team will receive a $900 scholarship and the third-place team a $600 scholarship from these organizations also to be divided among team members.

Other finalists were students from Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie County; Bradford Area High School, McKean County; Midd-West High School, Snyder County; North Pocono High School, Lackawanna County; Hanover Area Jr./Sr. High School, Luzerne County; PA Virtual Charter School, Montgomery County; South Fayette High School, Allegheny County; and Norwin High School, Westmoreland County.

Their solutions ranged from a litter sorting belt, statewide litter pick-up competition, and a rechargeable automated robot for collecting litter to several mobile applications, including one for individuals to report littering offenses and one that incentivizes throwing away litter in the proper trash receptacles. 

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