Cyber-Challenge Helps Youth Envision Careers in Science, Tech


Hands-on exhibits, team projects bring STEM subjects to life

By Lesia Winiarskyj

Engineers and biochemists from four CBIA member companies: General Electric, Northeast Utilities, Pfizer, and United Technologies Corp.: came together at the Connecticut Science Center in May for a series of multimedia presentations on topics as wide-ranging as ear infections and electric cars.

The presenters weren’t industry professionals: yet: but rather 91 teens in a program called Cyber-Challenge.

No-Fear Math and Science

Now in its second year, Cyber-Challenge builds young people’s interest, self-confidence, and proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. It works by linking classroom learning with real-world issues and connecting students with local practitioners in STEM fields. Key features of the program are team-building, project-based learning, and the use of technology as a research, communication, and presentation tool.

Cyber-Challenge is part of a larger, multi-year project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant, administered by CBIA’s Education Foundation in collaboration with the Connecticut Science Center, the Connecticut Community Colleges’ College of Technology’s Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing, and EASTCONN. The goal of ITEST is to motivate young people, through the use of innovative technology, to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) STEM courses.

From STEM to Stern

“Cyber-Challenge addresses the growing demand for Connecticut graduates with strong STEM skills,” says Judy Resnick, executive director of CBIA’s Education Foundation. “It makes STEM topics exciting, relevant, and accessible to young people and encourages them to enroll in rigorous STEM courses and eventually enter STEM careers.”

All three Cyber-Challenge schools: East Hartford High, New Britain High, and Wilby High School in Waterbury: are also participants in Project Opening Doors, an initiative that raises the enrollment and achievement of underrepresented students in AP classes. While Project Opening Doors supports juniors and seniors, Cyber-Challenge tailors its program to freshmen and sophomores, preparing them for the high-level work that AP classes require. The project is designed to be a feeder system for Project Opening Doors.

United We Solve

Ninth-graders gear up for Cyber-Challenge in the fall, with a kickoff and tour of exhibits at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. They’re divided into teams of 10-12 and given a multi-part question that requires research, analysis, creativity, and critical thinking to answer. Questions are designed by Cyber-Challenge’s corporate sponsors: GE, NU, Pfizer, and UTC. Each Cyber-Challenge question is based on a real-world problem where science and technology can be deployed to conserve resources, enhance human health and safety, and/or improve people’s lives.

This year’s questions centered on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of ear infections; evaluating the marketability of electric vehicle charging stations; assessing the benefits of Google PowerMeter during power outages and restoration; and exploring ways that water both sustains and threatens human health and safety and how we can harness technologies to increase access to water while decreasing water-related risks.

Students worked throughout the school year to solve their assigned problems, sharing information via wikis and using video, animation, and other technologies to develop their presentations. Support and mentoring came from industry representatives, faculty content experts, and workshop facilitators who engaged students in overcoming interpersonal differences and making the most of their work styles and preferences.

“I have learned how to effectively work with other team members,” says New Britain High School student Aleksandra Duszak, “and to work better with technology. I now know that with different personalities come different ideas: and that’s a good thing.”

This year’s grand-prize winners, East Hartford High School’s Hornets, received Kodak flip cameras and a trophy for their school. Second- and third-place teams won iPod MP3 players and Skullcandy earbuds, respectively.

Interested in a school-business partnership in your area? Contact CBIA’s Judy Resnick at 860.244.1900.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at

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