Discovery High School innovators place third at Mercy Corps event

Students put youthful spin on sustainable farming practices

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The students on the MAU Team, which came up with Modular Agricultural Units and technology designed to help resource-poor, young urban "micro farmers" grow and trade crops, consisted of (from left to right) Madeline Henion, Myles Wetzel, Edison Twyman and Cody Crawford. Jose Gordillo (not pictured), a foreign exchange student who has since returned to his home in Guatemala, also was on the team.

Three groups of Discovery High freshmen from Camas recently competed with young innovators from Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington for cash prizes and the quest to solve one incredibly important problem — a lack of food for the world’s population by 2050.

According to the Camas School District, the students, all part of Discovery High’s LEAP (Linking Engineering and Philanthropy) project, partnered with Mercy Corps, a Portland-based nonprofit that responds to disasters throughout the world and bills itself as “a global humanitarian organization empowering people to recover from crisis, build better lives and transform their communities for good,” to answer one main question: “How do we provide youth with useful and meaningful farming technology that will help meet the world’s food needs in a sustainable manner?”

On Dec. 7, a panel of local judges, made up of Discovery parents, Camas community members and people involved in the technology industry, came to Camas’ newest high school to review dozens of innovative ideas and select three teams out of 22 to represent Discovery High at the Mercy Corps event on Dec. 15.

One of those three Discovery teams came in third place at the Mercy Corps challenge, winning Discovery High $1,000 for their idea, which included an app that could help people in urban centers become micro farmers.

“We called them Modular Agricultural Units, or MAU,” explained Edison “Eddie” Twyman, one of the five members of Team MAU. The team wanted to help resource-poor urban youth become micro farmers, growing food for themselves and their immediate communities — using the MAUs to grow food on balconies or rooftops and relying on the app to troubleshoot farming problems, produce higher yields and exchange goods with other urban micro farmers.

The other two Discovery teams that went to the Dec. 15 Mercy Corps event, which included judges from the humanitarian organization as well as engineering and technology professionals, came up with ideas that included stimulating young plants with electricity to help them grow faster, and rethinking the “three sisters” crops of beans, squash and corn to sugar cane, rice and beans to better accommodate young farmers in tropical, coastal climates.

The students started their projects in October 2018, by first taking personality assessment tests to help guide the 22 Discovery High groups.

Freshman Emilia Hommestaad, 15, said group organizers wanted to form groups that would work well together and tried to mix creative students with those who were maybe a little more rooted in logical thinking. Organizers also tried to give each group a student who was a bit of a leader, to help the group keep on task and move along.

The experiment was a first for the Discovery students, said Discovery High Principal Aaron Smith.

“I was very impressed by how much thought went into putting the groups together,” Smith said.

Some of the student-created, personality-trait-driven groups worked, and some didn’t. The project did, however, make a few Discovery High students reconsider their own eating habits and think about where their own food came from.

“In America, a lot of people don’t think about where we get our food,” Hommestaad said. “This made me think about the food I’m consuming.”

At the Dec. 15 Mercy Corps event, the Discovery High students had the chance to meet with professionals from Autodesk, a Portland company that makes Inventor, a professional-grade software used by mechanical designers.

They also found themselves competing against older students from schools like Portland’s private, prestigious Catlin Gabel school — students who had often been working on their projects for many months.

“The other teams had a lot of upperclassmen and some had worked on this (project) before,” Smith said. “So this was a great opportunity for our students to work with some of these other teams and see their presentations.”

The Discovery team that earned a third-place prize at the event consisted of Twyman, Cody Crawford, Madeline Henion, Myles Wetzel and Jose Gordillo, a foreign exchange student who has since returned to his home in Guatemala.

Discovery High students meet with judges at Mercy Corps in Portland on Dec. 15, 2018.
Discovery High students meet with judges at Mercy Corps in Portland on Dec. 15, 2018. (Contributed photo courtesy of Discovery High School) Photo