What do butterflies, video games and a parody of “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice have in common?
They were all part of the presentations and ideas at this year’s Caring for the Kenai contest. Celebrating its 29th year, Caring for the Kenai challenges high schoolers to come up with original ideas for environmental and natural disaster preparedness and present their ideas to a panel of judges. Thanks to support from the community, Caring for the Kenai was able to award $8,000 directly to the students who participated as well as $20,000 for their classrooms. The top 12 students, representing schools from all over the peninsula, presented their ideas at Kenai Central High School last Thursday night.
Taking first place and receiving a $1,600 cash award this year was Homer’s Austin Cline. Cline’s proposal, “Plastics Reimagined,” involves taking No. 5 plastics — which are not currently recycled on the peninsula — and converting them into filament for 3D printers. Cline said that No. 5 plastics are items like yogurt containers and the lids of water bottles, and the filament used by 3D printers can be expensive and hard to acquire.
“The best solution to this problem is not to send our plastic elsewhere, which has been done in the past, but to reuse that plastic here,” he said.
Cline plans to put bins at local waste transfer facilities that people can put their No. 5 plastics into. He has two easily assembled machines that shred this plastic and convert it into 3D printing filament. Cline said that this will not only provide filament to classrooms that have 3D printers, but will also provide income to those classrooms that can sell their surplus filament to other businesses and individuals that use it.
Cline said that the machines that convert the plastic into filament can be assembled by instructors for under $400, and the schematics for these machines are available for free thanks to a UK-based program called Precious Plastics.
Taking second place and receiving $1,100 was a dynamic duo from Seward High, Lindy Guernsey and Akilena Veach. Guernsey and Veach built a full-scale drone using 3D printers and have used the drone to survey Seward’s floodplains. By taking a series of half-second photographs and using computer software to convert those images into a 3D model of the landscape, Guernsey and Beach have been able to provide crucial data to the Seward Flood Board so that they can accurately identify areas that need flooding mitigation. Guernsey and Veach have been doing this work for three years now and, as juniors in high school, they have been encouraging their younger peers to continue the program after they graduate.
Coming in third place was Connections home-school student Anna DeVolld. DeVolld’s project is all about saving the peninsula’s pollinators. DeVolld studied a variety of plants that support pollinators like bees, bats and butterflies and developed a “pollinator pack,” which contains seeds from a number of native Alaska plants. DeVolld plans to distribute her “pollinator packs” to businesses, schools and individuals in the community, as well as give presentations to classrooms to teach the next generation about the importance of pollinators in the ecosystem. DeVolld received $900 for her project and plans to use the money to fund her pollinator packets so that she can start distributing them as soon as possible.
Fourth place went to Homer’s Vianne Sarber, who is writing and illustrating a children’s book about environmental activism. Sarber’s book, “Sophie Saves the Sea,” is about a young Alaska girl named Sophie who takes a trip to the beach one day only to find that it is littered with trash. Sophie then teams up with her sea animal friends to clean up the beach and save the sea. Sarber plans to continue Sophie’s journey to save other parts of the natural world and create a relatable, environmentally conscious role model for the next generation. Her fourth-place prize of $750 will help get her book published on Kindle so that it can be distributed all over the world.
Fifth place honors went to Jacob Topp from Cook Inlet Academy. After hearing about two deaths that occurred last winter due to people falling through the ice on Big Lake, Topp decided to try and increase awareness about ice safety for people on the peninsula. Topp is encouraging people to join a Facebook page where residents can post regularly and receive updates about ice conditions.
“When we are sharing ice conditions with everyone on the Kenai; we are caring for the Kenai,” Topp said. “If this project could just save one life, that would mean the world to me.”
He also created an original rap to the tune of “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice with lyrics about ice safety that he hopes to start broadcasting on local radio stations. At the end of his presentation, Topp treated the audience to a live performance of his soon-to-be hit song, “Nice Ice Safety.”
Sixth place and $550 went to a pair of students also from Cook Inlet Academy, Landon Vyhmeister and Josiah Nunn. Vyhmeister and Nunn have coded and designed a video game about disaster preparedness to be used as a fun educational tool for students of all ages. Their game “R.I.S.E. U.P.” presents the player with a series of natural disasters and requires them to collect supplies necessary to survive. Their game will feature multiple difficulty levels and the option to change the type of disasters that occur based on where the game is played, such as tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest or earthquakes in Alaska.
The other six finalists each were awarded $400 for their projects and for earning a spot in the top 12 out of around 400 entries.
Riley Graves from Kenai Central gave an update on his magnetic beach rake that he introduced at last year’s Caring for the Kenai event, which has since been used by the city of Kenai to collect thousands of pounds of metal from the beaches. Melita Efta from Kenai Central collaborated with local artists to create a coloring book that teaches kids about wildlife native to the peninsula, which she plans to distribute to schools, as well as to local restaurants in the form of placemats. Justin Hansen from Soldotna Prep presented his Trails Initiative, which proposes to update the digital maps of local hiking trails to make them more precise and available offline.
A team of girls from Ninilchik School, Olivia Ferguson, Rebecca Okonek and Autumn Calabrese, convinced the audience that worms are sexy by introducing worm composting as an effective and efficient way to deal with food waste on the peninsula. Shawna Hudson from Kenai Central created a Monopoly-style board game called Solution for Pollution, where players compete to collect the most points by recycling. Dylan Duniphin from Kenai Central presented his idea to create an educational video on the dangers of nutrient runoff and its impact on the environment.
The 12 finalists as well as their families and teachers will attend a V.I.P. Awards banquet on April 27 hosted at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.