Young Minds, Fresh Eyes, Promising Solutions

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Inside the annual environmental awareness contest that brings the community together.

 

An education shouldn’t solely be measured by what a student learns, but also by how they apply those lessons to the world around them. The annual Caring for the Kenai (CFK) competition provides a great opportunity for high school students in Alaska to do just that.

 

For the 2018 competition, students from Homer, Kenai, Soldotna Prep, Nikiski, Ninilchik and Seward were challenged with the question: What can I do, invent, or create, to better care for the environment on the Kenai Peninsula, or to help improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster?

 

The winner, Nikiski High School junior Carlee Rizzo, took inspiration from the competition and created a video game for elementary students that challenges players to find solutions to environmental problems. The game illustrates the impact our decisions have on the environment, and how positive choices can help protect, preserve and remediate.

 

Carlee hopes to continue her video game, and possibly partner with a video game engineer to help her further develop it. But she isn’t the only student whose idea extends beyond the competition.

 

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The runner up, Soldotna Prep freshman Erika Arthur, hopes to bring her self-watering lettuce tower to all district schools and local farmer’s markets so the community can reduce its dependence on imported foods.

 

And third-place finisher, Soldotna Prep freshman Ryder Giesler, championed a proposal that included banning plastic bags. The city council voted to enact that ban and it will take affect in Soldotna on November 1.

 

The ideas generated by the Caring for Kenai competition make real contributions to local communities. With over 400 participating students this year, that’s a lot of ideas.

 

And participating in the competition was no easy feat.

 

The students—either individually or as a team— completed comprehensive research, interviews, even experiments to get as much information as possible on the specific environmental issue they chose to focus on. They then wrote an essay proposal outlining the problem they were trying to solve, what they learned about it, and a description of their solution.

 

A panel of eight judges from the Kenai community evaluated the submissions. From the 400 applicants, 98 advanced to the semi-finalist round. From here, the top 12 moved to the final phase of the competition—a public, oral presentation in front of the judges and a live audience, as well as an online audience following the livestream.

 

Andeavor recognized the twelve finalists and their achievement by sponsoring the oral presentation round of the competition, which, along with other sponsors, awarded $8,000 to the individuals or teams, as well as another $20,000 that was divided up among the participating schools depending on where their students placed.

 

The CFK’s main message that “we are all environmental decision makers” resonates with Andeavor employees and the company’s commitment to shared value, a deliberate and proactive approach to considering stakeholder interests, such as the environment and the community, and working together to maximize the mutual value.