High School Students in Springfield Win Award For Plan To Help Unhoused

Holly Ellingson Teaches science and engineering at Gateways High school in Springfield. Photo courtesy Holly Ellingson.
Holly Ellingson Teaches science and engineering at Gateways High school in Springfield. Photo courtesy Holly Ellingson.

While schools around Lane County celebrated Computer Science Education Week earlier this month, students at Gateways High School in Springfield were tackling a different science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) issue — how to help the unhoused.

After winning $20,000 worth of technology in the nationwide Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, teacher Holly Ellingson and her Engineering and Design classes at Gateways, an alternative high school in the Springfield School District, now advance to the next stage of the competition, taking with them their idea of building a tiny, eco-friendly house and moving it forward by making a video that shows off their plans.

“It’s a contest where the students had to come up with something to help the community, so we brainstormed a bunch of community problems and ways that we could use STEM to try to lessen the impact of those problems,” Ellingson says.

Each group of students in her two class periods decided to tackle the problem of homelessness, and they both proposed designing and building a tiny house.

Ellingson says that STEM skills are essential for today’s students. “If you don’t have a good understanding of engineering or creative thinking, which is the old-fashioned way of saying it, you’re going to have a hard time finding success in a lot of fields,” she says.

Samsung selected Ellingson’s students and their project as Oregon’s state winner. Fifty-one winners, one from each state and Washington DC, were selected out of more than 4,100 proposed projects, according to Samsung.

Students at Gateways have already created cardboard models of potential tiny houses, and Ellingson says she’s hoping to connect with community members who have experience building and placing tiny houses.

From the 51 state winners, Samsung will select 15 national finalists, and that stage comes with even more funds for classroom technology. Ellingson says her class will most likely use its current winnings to purchase new laptops for Gateways.

“We have computers that are more than 10 years old,” Ellingson says. “My students can do more on their phones than they can on the old laptops we have.”

While the Springfield School District passed a bond measure last year to pay for updated technology, Ellingson says the process is slow, and by winning the contest her students will get access to new tech more quickly.

The next step is producing a three-minute video showcasing the students’ plan for building a tiny house. The video will be ready by February, Ellingson says.