Future Business Leaders Use Engineering Skills to Achieve Success

Three Fremont High School students utilize elements of their STEM courses to progress to the Future Business Leaders of America National Leadership Conference.

“In other classes, I might have learned how to design an experiment by reading a textbook or watching a slide presentation, but in Engineering Essentials, we learned how to design an experiment by conducting multiple of them,” said Mihir, a freshman at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. Mihir and his friend Abhay, both Project Lead The Way (PLTW) students, worked with fellow Fremont freshman, Ruhan, to apply the design thinking approach from their PLTW Engineering class to achieve success in a business project with their school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club. Their continued success earned them a spot at FBLA’s National Leadership Conference, which took place in Chicago in June 2022.

Earlier this year, the Fremont High School FBLA club hosted a Shark Tank competition, mirrored after the successful television show where entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of industry leaders who may choose to invest in the idea. At the school’s competition, the club members formed small groups to compete against each other with a panel of club counselors as potential investors.

Abhay, Mihir, and Ruhan formed a group called GreenWay and decided to move forward with a plan to create a bio converter that would turn wasted food into renewable energy. “Our Shark Tank project was the Bio Converter. It can turn wasted food from your house into bioenergy that can be used to power your home. You insert wasted food into the container, then it will go through a heated turbine and a generator that sends the electricity into the powerhouse. The product won’t put valuable energy in the trash. Not only is the product relatively cheap, but it also saves on your electricity prices,” said Ruhan.

The team had many planning calls to work through the product design itself, but also to plan how they would pitch the product to the panel of potential investors. “During the time we had, we split the project into sections. With each section, we all collaborated with each other and contributed ideas from different perspectives to create a product that resonated with all of us. Mihir and I considered engineering ideas, such as the design process, systems thinking, solutions, etc. Ruhan got to learn along the way through working on our project,” Abhay said.

The team used the skills they learned in their Engineering Essentials class, a PLTW Engineering course where students explore engineering career opportunities and solve real-world problems like creating a natural relief center system or creating a solution to improve the safety and well-being of local citizens.

“We were working on systems thinking in Engineering Essentials. In our class, we learned how to make systems thinking diagrams, which sparked the idea of making a diagram for our [Shark Tank] project. The skills learned during our systems thinking project helped us apply our knowledge outside of the classroom and in our challenge.” Mihir said.

This is not the first time Fremont High School PLTW Engineering teacher Bob Capriles has seen his students apply their STEM skills outside of his classroom, but it still inspires him every time. “I love that the students take what they learn and apply it. That's what is so impressive to me. They’ve been exposed to it enough that they think to combine it,” Caprilles said.

The team utilized systems thinking and presented a systems thinking diagram during their pitch, an element the judges called out as separating their team from the rest. GreenWay won the event, advancing to the next round of competition in Ontario, Louisiana.

There, the team participated in the State Leadership Conference (SLC) for three days. They met with students, educators, and business leaders across the state. At this conference, they participated in a Business Ethics event where they were asked to review a case study on the social media platform Instagram. They wrote a one-page essay about how the ethical issue occurred, how they would devise a solution, and what they could do to prevent the ethical issue from happening again. “What I found interesting is that we had learned about ethical decision making from an activity in the Engineering Essentials course. I realized how using the concepts I learned from PLTW has helped my team and I to win second in the state for this event, which lets us qualify for nationals, taking place in Chicago, Illinois [in June 2022]. We are freshmen, who went against juniors and seniors in this event, and we still qualified,” Abhay wrote in a letter to Capriles.

Capriles hopes all his PLTW students understand how the skills they are learning apply regardless of a class or career path. He said, “I hope they realize that what they are learning can be used throughout their lives. It doesn’t matter if they go into engineering or not. The important thing is that they are learning skills that can be applied to so many places. They are learning skills that really make a difference.”

Through this experience, Abhay and Mihir agree. “The skills I’ve learned from PLTW have been applied to everything I've seen when I look hard enough. Engineering applies to everything we do, because to build, we need to engineer. I've seen this in my math class, for example, when we were trying to make an object with a smaller surface area while keeping the same volume as the given object on the problem. I realized how that tied into package design, a lesson we had in Engineering Essentials. I was able to go through that problem in math with ease because I knew about package design from engineering,” Abhay said.

When asked about whether the students felt PLTW’s transformative curriculum gave them an advantage Abhay said, “…the courses taught me to connect my ideas towards societal issues, and to really derive from this sort of mindset. If I were to not have learned these skills, I would have a harder time developing solutions that consider all perspectives for the customer and society. Not only that, but the model itself would not have reached this depth that we strive for.” Mihir added that he felt the advantage within robotics and used the design process when approaching design challenges.

At FBLA’s National Leadership Conference in Chicago, IL, the team competed against students from across the country and although they did not advance to the final round, they were excited to attend events and connect with industry leaders.

“Although we did not make it to the final round of our event, it was still an amazing experience. We had the chance to meet with talented contenders across the country and connect with like-minded people. Going to NLC opened our eyes to the FBLA experience and we can’t wait to compete next year,” said Mihir.

We are so excited to see what these students have in store for us in the future and wish them the best of in their future endeavors.

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PLTW provides PreK-12 schools, teachers, and students with hands-on, interdisciplinary STEM-based curriculum that uniquely prepares students for life and their future careers.

PLTW rejuvenates teachers, providing world-class experiences that keep them on the forefront of how to prepare students for the demands of tomorrow. PLTW:

  • Has provided professional development opportunities to more than 80,000 teachers giving them the support and resources needed to inspire students
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  • Continuously updates teacher resources that are available on demand
  • Facilitates teacher networking opportunities
  • Develops curriculum by a team of writers, many of whom are former teachers

Learn more about PLTW on pltw.org.