WAYNE COUNTY—A quartet of local 4-H members comprising this year's Science of Ag Team were awarded first-place at the second annual Pennsylvania Science of Agriculture Challenge for their innovative alert system for farmers in the field.
The team, comprised of Paige Gries, Brianna Metschulat, Clara Murphy and Eoghan Murphy, out-performed 10 other teams containing more than 40 4-Hers from across the Commonwealth.
Moreover, the Wayne County team was the youngest team competing this year with Gries and Clara having just finished sixth grade, Eoghan having just finished eighth and Metschulat, recently graduated, being the only high schooler on the team.
Most other teams were comprised entirely of high school 4-Hers.
For their hard work, Gries, Metschulat and the Murphy siblings were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship to use for education and training post high school.
All in all, the team noted it “feels great,” to have taken first place.
“It all paid off,” said Clara, “It was fun.”
Clara's brother, Eoghan, added, “It was kind of nerve wracking,” to see the other teams' presentations. “You start second-guessing all the decisions you made.”
Having gone through two rounds of presentation, one private in front of a preliminary judge panel and a second in front of a room of over 100 people, what may have spelled their ultimate victory is “All the judges really liked what we were doing,” said Gries.
Their project, “Agricultural Safety Device,” detailed a gadget farmers could use when working in the fields or other area with no cellular service to relay via radio signal one of four messages regarding their current status back to the farmhouse.
This idea, and the work the team put into it led them to victory over the second-place team from Armstrong County, a returning finalist with their controllable heat lamp, and the third-place team from Indiana County, who presented “The Keystone Clover Kitchen.”
The journey so far
Starting with just a concept in January, in the span of just under seven months the team had a prototype model they were beginning to test by competition time June 19-21.
Along the process, the team learned many valuable transferrable skills in long-term planning, project designing and execution, as well as highly technical skills such as software implementation, electrical engineering, programming, 3-D printing, soldering and coding.
Clara noted she found the most difficult part of the whole process to be the programming, but most enjoyed meeting new people and learning new things at the competition.
For Eoghan, the best part of the whole process was learning to build the apparatus and put it all together, though he lamented the team was not able to test and prototype prior to the competition.
Not yet finished with the concept, the team is looking to make it a two-year project, hopefully presenting a polished and tested product next June.
The team is excited to try and implement some new features into their project, such as GPS signaling, while also trying to bring their costs and overall size down.
Metschulat played a key role in helping the team advance so far and ultimately win, explained team coaches, Jessica Scull and Mary Ann Curtis.
“Brianna had lots of input from having competed last year that helped us keep in mind what we needed to be doing this year,” said Curtis.
Scull added, “That was a big help, having her experience from attending last year and seeing what the other teams did and guiding this team.”
The team noted she will be greatly missed and difficult to replace for next year's competition.
Both Curtis and Scull commended the team for their accomplishment and the drive they have to see the project through.
“I think they did fantastic,” said Scull. “To see how far they've come...all of them have exponentially blossomed through the whole entire thing.”
Curtis added, “Their sense of teamwork, camaraderie and respect for each others' ideas...was really neat to see develop.”
Hosting a post-victory pizza party on Wednesday night, the team extended a big thanks to Anthony Komar for his help in guiding them through the technical aspects of their project.
Komar lauded the the team's dedication to the project and all they accomplished since he met them in February.
“They learned the 3-D design software,” he explained. “They actually had to learn it and then they spent time printing it out...Then we had to do fixes.”
The team also expressed their gratitude to The Stourbridge Project which supplied them with classroom space and access to the prototyping lab and software to create their product.