Students and teachers in Hong Kong.
Six students from Greenbrier Middle School and their teachers competed in the International Young STEAM Maker Competition at Lingnan University in Hong Kong this summer. (Photo credit: Chrissy Hattaway)

Local students bring home awards from an international STEAM competition in Hong Kong

Six students from Greenbrier Middle School traveled across the globe this summer to face more than 100 teams at the International Young STEAM Maker Competition at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Not only did these six students compete internationally, but they brought home several awards, including second place in the overall STEAM Maker Exhibition and presentation.

STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics as access points for guiding student dialogue and critical thinking.

With 111 teams competing July 14-20 at Lingnan University, the Greenbrier students received second place in best performance, second place in the problem solver competition, second place in the most talented division and third place in the most creative category, in addition to second place in the overall STEAM Maker Exhibition and presentation.

The Greenbrier students who participated in the Hong Kong competition were Jordan Epstein, Emily Forshee, Kendall Schneller, Carissa Veriato, Leland Green and Sam Weinstein. These six students were all a part of the Greenbrier Middle School’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Competition Team for 2018-19.

David Phillips, coordinator of the Greenbrier Middle School STEM team and a science teacher at the school who traveled with the students to Hong Kong, said he couldn’t be more pleased with the effort put forth by his two STEM teams.

“To say that we are proud would be the biggest understatement possible,” Phillips said, adding that he and Greenbrier Middle School math teacher Chrissy Hattaway were blown away by the students’ enthusiasm during the Hong Kong trip. “These kids work hard and want to make a difference. This trip has been nothing short of amazing.”

The road to Hong Kong

This past October, the Greenbrier team signed up for the STEAM competition at Augusta University and won the competition’s overall grand prize for middle school engineering. The students’ successful participation in last year’s STEAM competition opened the door to this recent trip to Hong Kong.

“Last year was our first year for the STEAM competition here at Augusta University,” said Ashley Gess, an assistant professor of STEAM education in the College of Education at Augusta University.

According to Gess, STEM is an educational approach that leverages the design process so that students intentionally combine what they are learning in science, math and other subjects into solving a real-world problem using engineering or engineering technologies. What results is a true interdisciplinary approach to learning.

STEAM is an educational approach that also leverages designing but gives the context of arts as another option for problem resolution, she said.

More than 600 students from Georgia and South Carolina signed up to compete in last year’s MindFrame STEAM competition. This year, Gess hopes to double the number of students participating in the newly renamed competition called STEAMIFY on Oct. 26. Registration for this year’s event is currently open until Sept. 15.

Professor standing by window.
Dr. Ashley Gess is an assistant professor of STEAM education in the College of Education at Augusta University.

Not long after the completion of the STEAM event here at Augusta University last year, Gess was invited to a school in Hong Kong to train its faculty on STEAM education.

During her trip, she met Dr. Xiangdong Wei, the director of the STEAM Education and Research Centre at Lingnan University.

To her surprise, Gess said Wei invited her to participate in the International Young STEAM Maker Competition at Lingnan University this summer.

“But he also was very interested in American schools coming to participate in their competition.” Gess said. “As a result, he offered through some of the funding that he has, to pay for 80 percent of the students’ travel costs.

“These kids could not have had this incredible opportunity without the generosity of Lingnan University.”

Winning, despite the odds

Phillips said the trip to Hong Kong is one that the middle school students will never forget.

“What an incredible experience,” Phillips said. “We were so impressed with the students because, when you hear second and third place awards, nobody will really ever understand what they had to overcome to get that recognition.”

One of the biggest obstacles was that the majority of judges at the international competition did not speak English, Phillips said.

“We thought Hong Kong would be a really English-friendly place, but it was kind of sparse,” Phillips said. “You could read and order off a menu in English, but as far as the competition went, we think one judge understood some English. But we knew the other two didn’t, because the one judge was translating for them. So out of the three judges, we had one who knew a little bit of English.”

The Greenbrier students also had a shorter period of time to prepare for the competition, Phillips said.

“Our students had about a month to get ready for the competition and when we got to Hong Kong, we found out that most of the other teams had three, four or five months that they have been working on their projects,” Phillips said. “Also, the whole time leading up to the competition, the students had been preparing for a five-minute presentation. Well, right before presenting, the judges came up to students and said, ‘Oh, no. You have three minutes. Go.’ So the students adjusted on the fly.”

Students standing with project.
Greenbrier Middle School students with their winning project.

Many of the other projects in the competition were also much larger and more elaborate, Phillips said.

“We were kind of limited to something that was portable in a suitcase,” Phillips said, laughing. “Some of these teams had giant, 5-foot-tall metal recycling robots. Some had these entire cities built out of electronics and laser-cut wood. It was just phenomenal the level of detail some of these projects had.”

After seeing the competition, a few of the Greenbrier students began to get a little psyched out, Phillips said.

“But then, come awards day, we came in second place,” Phillips said. “We still can’t believe the results.”

Bringing home the awards

The two Greenbrier teams presented different projects: one was a miniature car that was based on the maglev train system and the other was a model for a self-sustaining house that collected rainwater.

“Basically, the rainwater drove a generator that produced electricity for the house,” Phillips said. “That’s the one that ended up taking home the big prize. The students were on top of the world. It was truly a team effort.”

In addition to the original STEAM Makers competition, students were also divided into random groups for an alternate competition, Phillips explained.

The students were required to work with their new groups to create a roller coaster with the materials provided.

One of the Greenbrier students, Carissa Veriato, was part of a randomly selected team that received third place in the best collaborative team category.

But the students weren’t the only ones who received recognition.

Teacher receiving an award.
David Phillips, a Greenbrier Middle School teacher, receives a STEAM award.

Teachers from each of the 111 teams were also invited to compete in the international STEAM teacher competition. During that competition, Phillips received second place.

“I didn’t even know that teachers could compete until a week before the trip,” Phillips said. “So receiving second place from a panel of international judges was a pretty neat surprise.”

While in Hong Kong, the Greenbrier students also got to visit Victoria Harbor, several city markets, an amusement park called Ocean Park and the highest hill on Hong Kong island called Victoria Peak, Phillips said.

“The kids definitely had a great time seeing all of the sights. And the travel trip from our front door to the university’s front door was 33 hours each way,” Phillips said, laughing. “So it was exhausting, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It was quite an adventure.”

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Stacey Eidson

Stacey Eidson is Senior News & Communications Coordinator at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-522-3023 or

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Written by Stacey Eidson

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