Students in Sarai Bender’s class at West Limestone High School pitch their product to a panel of judges from Calhoun Community College.

No challenge was too big for Sarai Bender’s students at West Limestone High School.

In early February, Bender’s eighth and 10th grade students embarked on a month-long journey with FlexFactor, a program provided by Calhoun Community College, Boeing, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and NextFlex. Over the course of a few weeks, students learned how to combine problem solving, design thinking, technology and entrepreneurship to address some of the many challenges faced in our world today. They were also exposed to the field of advanced manufacturing. 

“I was extremely lucky to be a part of this program with my students,” Bender said. “I have watched students grow through this program, become leaders, work as a team, conquer their fears, problem solve and take ownership of their ideas.”

To begin, students were split into small teams to identify a real-world problem that had meaning to them. They then had to conceptualize a hardware device using Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) to address the problem, identify a target market for the product to be sold, as well as engage in customer discovery research. As part of the experience, the students took part in a virtual College Day at Calhoun to learn about STEM opportunities, such as advanced manufacturing, health science and cybersecurity. Students also participated in a virtual industry day with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing employees and Calhoun FAME students who shared about their careers with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. 

The program culminated with Bender’s students pitching their FHE devices in a “Shark Tank”-style event to a panel from Calhoun. The top five teams made their final pitches to a panel of representatives from Calhoun, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, North Alabama Works, NextFlex, and the high school.

“After watching all of the students pitch their ideas, I am very excited to see what our students will become once they leave West,” Bender said. “I am inspired and amazed with the ideas that our students presented and their ability to problem solve.

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