Four teams of high school and junior high students presented solutions at the Second Annual Hard Problem Challenge during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida, Nov 29.


Team members didn’t know what to expect going into the competition. The only hint they received prior to the challenge consisted of two words – “global force” – from Erica Haglund, focused workshops lead for the National Training and Simulations Association’s EcosySTEM of Learning.


After an explanation of specific terms relevant to the contest, the groups defined a problem consistent with I/ITSEC 2023’s theme of “sustaining a global force in a digital world.” The teams were asked to brainstorm solutions that had no bounds at first, and later consider realistic limitations. Subject matter experts shared insights with the teams on their topics, and the students asked questions to refine their ideas.


The teams pitched solutions to industry professionals during the “customer discovery” phase, made further adjustments based on the feedback they received, and rehearsed their pitches. Finally, they presented to four Team Orlando judges: Dr. Tamara Griffith, DEVCOM chief engineer; Beverly Seay, southeast regional director for the Defense Department’s National Security Innovation Network; Marwane Bahbaz, chief engineer for Synthetic Training Environment – Live Training Systems; and Army Lt. Col. James Flott, product manager for Tactical Training Systems at PEO STRI.


The competition sought to develop tomorrow’s leaders and their problem-solving skills, according to Haglund.


“The problems we face in industry, the Defense Department and academia are problems that a lot of us don’t know the answers to,” Haglund said. “We took those problems and brought them down to the student level. We hope to continue growing their thinking so they can take those problem-solving skills, that learning to ‘climb the mountain’ with an idea, and take those abilities into the workforce – hopefully into our pipeline of modeling and simulation in the military – and keep it moving forward.”


Judges selected the team representing the Future Kings Program as winners of the competition, which consisted of Safa Islam, George Tamakloe, Donovan Reid and Logan Cunningham. Their solution featured the use of modeling, simulation and mixed reality to expedite learning tasks as varied as applying a tourniquet, responding to cyberattacks, or learning foreign languages.


“The key message I want to leave you with is to learn how to learn,” Bahbaz said to all the competitors before the winning team was announced. “You will be learning throughout your life, so you have to embrace how to learn… it’s a culture by itself.”

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