Written by Mary Cotter ’22
Right before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, I was a member of the 9-10 Allendale Columbia TEAM+S team that included Aidan Wun ‘22, Harmony Palmer ‘23, Chris Smoker ’23, and me, Mary Cotter ’22. We competed in the Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science (TEAM+S) competition, earning the title of NYS Champions! Our win would have earned us a position at the National competition, but this was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The TEAM+S competition encourages students to explore the field of engineering through problem solving and collaboration with their teammates. The theme for the competition this year was improving zoos. This encouraged us to delve into research about solutions to common complaints about zoos, the costs of such solutions, and the environmental impact.
Before the competition, our team wrote an essay responding to the prompt: “Your team is tasked with modifying an existing zoo within your state to develop innovations that would maximize economic, environmental, and/or societal benefits.” We wrote about modifying the Utica Zoo by planting native plant species, installing more energy-efficient appliances, and transforming the zoo into a sanctuary.
Zoo animals, including those at the Utica Zoo, have been observed as “anxious and bored” creating a “depressing” experience for visitors, according to Google Reviews. And it’s easy to see the reason for bored animals and bored children. Utica Zoo attendance has declined in recent years, and the Zoo has suffered financially. The Utica Zoo depends on government bailouts, but our essay outlined a few changes that could transform the Zoo into a healthier environment for the animals and a fun and educational experience for visitors.
On the day of the competition, we worked together on a 90-minute, 80-question multiple choice test. The topics of the questions were centered around the theme and required us to divide the questions based on individual strengths in math, biology, technology, and creative problem-solving. Then we completed the engineering challenge in which we created the lightest crane to lift the most weight to the greatest height. We were given limited time and resources to create our crane.
This competition was very intellectually stimulating and forced us to work collaboratively to find the best solutions to complicated problems. It was a fun way to explore the field of engineering.
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