Above left: Students learn about plastic waste during a Fish Tank kick-off workshop on Jan. 11. PC: NexTech.

NexTech’s first annual Fish Tank competition is under way and students are being challenged with solving a looming problem in Hawaiʻi: plastic pollution. Last year, the County of Hawaiʻi halted its plastic recycling program, leaving some 60 tons of plastic waste to be dumped into the local landfill each day.

Kick-off event speakers Sanne Berrig (Hawaiʻi County Recycling Specialist), Eric Hagiwara (Waiākea High School teacher), Bill Kucharski (Hawaiʻi County DEM Director) and Bruce Meyers (President of Okahara & Associates). Photo courtesy of NexTech.

Kick-off event speakers Sanne Berrig (Hawaiʻi County Recycling Specialist), Eric Hagiwara (Waiākea High School teacher), Bill Kucharski (Hawaiʻi County DEM Director) and Bruce Meyers (President of Okahara & Associates). Photo courtesy of NexTech.

Thirty-eight students from public, private and home-schools across Hawaiʻi Island are particating in the STEM challenge, learning about plastic waste and how engineering processes can offer solutions. With coaching from mentors, subject matter experts and local engineers, students are coming up with solutions to pitch to a panel of judges on April 25 at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Teams will be judged according to their technical reports and presentations for prizes.

Adapted from the popular business reality TV show Shark Tank, Fish Tank challenges students grades 6 to 12 to work together to find solutions to locally relevant problems. Students get a chance to learn valuable skills like problem solving, collaborating, report writing and public speaking. Importantly, students also have opportunities to connect and build relationships with mentors in the community.

The program is made possible by the generosity of financial sponsors including Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, Okahara and Associates and Guidestar Engineering, as well as support from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, County of Hawaiʻi, Rotary Club of Hilo, Big Island Engineers and volunteers.

For more information about NexTech and the Fish Tank Competition, visit nextechhawaii.org/fishtank.