Minutes from ocean beaches, the garden-like campus of the Benjamin School is alive with the entrepreneurial spirit. As the final bell of the school day rings, forty students, in grades 9-12, dive into engineering, technology and innovation. They call themselves the Benjineers.
Four years ago, Patrick Cullinane brought the Ten80 Student Racing Challenge to the Benjamin School. Having recognized how well Ten80 lessons allow students to apply key classroom concepts at his previous school, he knew it would be a great fit. “Ten80’s not just for gear heads,” shared Cullinane about his motivation to introduce Ten80 to the after-school program. “It’s a well-rounded program that allows students from every discipline into the group. It helps students apply engineering, business, computer science, mathematics, science and just about every other classroom skill into real world problems.”
As the premier engineering club at The Benjamin School, the students work together to infuse real world experiences into STEM education. The team consists of 30 males and 10 females. They meet once a week to plan their strategies for creating engineering projects that will help them rise to the top of the leader boards in the National STEM League (NSL).
With the palms gently fluttering in the slight breeze, Cullinane watches with pride as returning students introduce the worlds of engineering, technology and innovation to new members of the STEM education afterschool club. “The students run the club,” said Cullinane. “They set meetings, work on projects and race 1:10 scale race cars.” As the Benjineers faculty advisor, Cullinane is there to help these aspiring engineers cultivate a solid foundation in good engineering design and practice.
The Benjineers like to compete. The students work together throughout the year going through the handbook and documentation to figure out what activities to complete. They develop the schedule of projects. They work on improving car performance, practice driving and plan for competitions. Leading up to each competition, every member of the team practices learning the ropes of the key roles in the club. Working together they designate drivers and mechanics.
“Ten80 is always striving to expand and challenge us each year,” shared Cullinane. “The NSL is a great national competition that makes students think outside the box. Ten80 keeps updating the challenges to make students work harder each year. As we compete we see what other teams are doing and this motivates us to successfully compete against them the following year which makes us better.”
The Benijeers cherish the opportunity to display what they achieve throughout the year. Using their engineering handbooks, the students reflect on what they’ve created and how they perform. The NSL competitions allow them to showcase their work which is an important part of the process. Motivated by their accomplishments, they relish in the idea of accelerating down the road to become one of the top NSL teams in the nation. Anthony Comorat, 11th grade student and vice president of racing shared “Once you update the cars to carbon fiber or aluminum the biggest challenge is driving. The ones that practice the most driving end up doing the best at competitions.”
While the racing challenges help some students focus, developing a business plan motivates other team members. They design entertaining and informative marketing and project management presentations. Throughout the year they prepare for and deliver 30-second pitches and 8-minute presentations. Reflecting on her experience, club president and 11th grade student Cameron Pirozzi said “Being part of Ten80 and presenting at the competitions helps me develop my leadership and presentation skills.”
As the days grow darker and the leaves begin to fade, the Benijeers are hard at work improving their race car performance, developing their data driven design projects, and perfecting their business presentation. As their faculty advisor for the past four years Cullinane has learned a lot of about strategies to help his team get to the finals. His advice for new, and old teams alike, “Plan as much as possible. Set deadlines and hold the students accountable.”