MERCEDES - South Texas Independent School District held their fourth annual Engineering Design & Development Conference on Friday at their Science Academy (Sci Tech) campus.

The conference is a showcase of the campus' senior capstone projects and a competition with cash scholarships up for grabs. Titled “EDD Presents 4.0,” this year’s conference celebrated the feats students can reach with a strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

To enliven the student body, best-selling author and STEM education expert for the U.S. Speaker and Specialist Program, Dr. Vince Bertram, gave the keynote speech. He encouraged students to “dream smarter” and spoke about the far-reaching effects of their academic curriculum.

“STEM is the foundation of our entire economy,” Bertram said. “There is no industry – no company – that doesn’t require people with a STEM education.”

Sci Tech seniors proved Dr. Bertram’s point with their diverse projects. At the start of the school year, they were tasked with identifying a problem and actualizing a solution through the engineering process. Forming teams of two to four students, they tackled everything from mosquito bite prevention to preventing accidents due to texting.

Faculty and graduate students from UTRGV and Texas A&M University-Kingsville, as well as community and business representatives with technical backgrounds, judged the projects. Using specific criteria, they evaluated the prototype, testing results and the students’ 20-minute presentation. The three highest-scoring teams presented their projects again in front of the entire student body where they faced a second round of questions from the judges and were finally ranked.

In third place, Andres Cerda, Sebastian Colom and Ramon Montalvo IV received $50 each for their project to prevent fires caused by candles. Edgar Reyes, Luis Olvera, Rudy Garza and Sarah Kolia-Medrano received $100 each for their project to prevent hyperthermia, or heat-related illness, in dogs. And, taking the top prize was “Preventing Bench Press Injuries,” the presentation by Mauricio Ortiz, Adrian Del Bosque, Juan J. Trevino and Nicolas Kaplan. They each received $200, a Craftsman tool kit for future engineering endeavors, and a pledge of $1,500 from UTRGV and Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

As each team went up the stage to receive their prizes, they thanked their dedicated teachers and project mentors – the individuals that first put them on the STEM path to future success.