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Melrose supercomputing students take home awards

 


MELROSE — When you think of the communities of eastern New Mexico, supercomputing is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But some Melrose junior high and high school students are trying to change that.

At last week’s 28th annual New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge Melrose students showed off their technological abilities, taking home four awards and four scholarships totaling $5,100.

“I think it’s a really unique experience that not a lot of high school students get to engage in,” senior Rebecca Rush said. “So the kids at Melrose kind of joke around and say that it’s a nerd convention — and that’s true — but it’s been very beneficial for everyone that’s been involved. At Melrose sports are very, very important and this gives an outlet for some of the more tech-savvy kids to engage in.”

Melrose science teacher Alan Daugherty, who leads the supercomputing group, said 22 Melrose students went to this year’s competition in Los Alamos. There students presented the projects they’ve worked on throughout the school year, which employ computer models and programming to address real-life problems.

“It really is a great opportunity for these kids to get some exposure and experience with computer science and related topics,” Daugherty said. “It gives them a chance to be able to see and do some things that they wouldn’t have the opportunity of coming across in their normal day-to-day routine at a rural school like this.”

Using the programming language NetLogo, Melrose students tackled topics like post-traumatic stress disorder in babies and crop-dusting safety.

“We took a blank screen that was just completely black and made it to where it can turn green and we made it to where we build fields, houses, a road and an airplane by the competition; it was pretty fun,” Eoghan Knight said of his team’s crop-dusting safety project. Knight and fellow sixth graders Lily and Heidi Macfarlane won the “Environmental Modeling” award.

Other Melrose award winners were senior Maggie Martin who took home the “Crowd Favorite” and the “Living the Project” awards and freshmen Evelyn and Madison Garret who won the “New Mexico Women in Science” award.

Scholarship money was also given to all four of Melrose’s seniors: Martin ($2,400), Rebecca Rush ($1,200), Mackenzie Perkins ($750) and Hannah Wofford ($750).

The competition has long been fruitful for Melrose students. Superintendent Jamie Widner said every Melrose senior who has competed in the Supercomputing Challenge over the 17 years the school has participated has received at least some scholarship funding.

Officials said $500 of the scholarship funding is reserved for purchasing a laptop for students if they don’t have one. Jerri Rush said that money has been a big benefit for her three children who have gone through the program and allowed them to have their own computer, something they didn’t have while in high school.

Besides learning how to write code and programs for computers, students also have to produce written reports, work together as a team and improve their public speaking for the presentation, building more than just computer skills.

“One of the best benefits that my kids received from the Supercomputing Challenge was the fact that they had to learn to write a paper that was a technical paper and they had to present their information to strangers repeatedly over and over and by the time they graduated from high school it was old hat, it was easy, and these are skills that are going to benefit them lifelong,” Jerri Rush said.

Students and parents praised Daugherty for the above and beyond effort he puts in to make Melrose students successful at the Supercomputing Challenge by working with them after school, over the summer and even driving the bus to and from Los Alamos.

“I think he’s just a really nice guy,” Heidi Macfarlane said. “He helps everybody. Also he’s a very hard worker. He stays after school for us, he’ll just help us whenever we needed it and I think he played a very big part in our project.”

Susan Macfarlane said she appreciated the chance for her kids to develop skills that will benefit them beyond high school.

“The idea is to build these kids up to be our future in computing because that’s the future,” she said. “If we want to get these big companies to move to New Mexico and jobs for our kids, we need to be teaching our kids (computing) so that they can get these jobs.”

 

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