THREE Bendigo students have excelled in a statewide challenge to develop ways to cope through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bendigo South East College year eight and nine students Lilly Sukkel, Cooper Bowen, and Adler Pickering all finished on the podium for the Young Change Agents' Coronavirus Challenge.
The challenge encouraged Victorian students to develop solutions to problems they identified as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, including isolation and remote learning.
Victorian Tech Schools - including the Bendigo Tech School - and Telstra joined with Young Change Agents to create the challenge. Telstra graduates also mentored students participating in the challenge.
Miss Sukkel came in first place for her idea, Project Plant - a plant subscription box service to connect people virtually and build a community of people growing plants in their own homes.
She said her idea could help people who were isolated and alone during the pandemic.
"As a gardener myself, gardening has brought me great joy so I want to give others that joy and that opportunity," she said.
"Hopefully connecting older and younger people, and making it so easy - it's all step by step - will be a really good way to get people involved."
Mr Bowen and Mr Pickering came equal third for their website idea, EDU-LEVEL-UP.
The website incorporates techniques like gamification and incentives to encourage and reward students for their work. Students get rewarded with anything from gift cards to game items.
Mr Bowen said the pair surveyed students and teachers in Bendigo, Sydney, and Cairns as part of their research, and found many were disengaged with school work while in lockdown.
"We got the same results," Mr Bowen said. "Despite being in different states, there was the same problem. We found it was an Australia-wide problem."
Bendigo South East College teacher Paul Rowland introduced the students to the challenge and said he couldn't be prouder of their achievements.
"These kids are super fantastic and super dedicated," he said. "It takes a lot of dedication to do something like this and lots of good ideas come out of this.
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"The other extent of it is that the Bendigo Tech School gives us a lot of leverage so I can invest in the students and spend a lot of time with them."
Bendigo Tech School director Graeme Wiggins said it was great to see Bendigo students get involved and succeed in the challenge.
"We asked young people to look at a problem as an opportunity, rather than having a deficit mindset," he said.
"It was about thinking positively and thinking about design solutions from a really empathetic perspective."
Mr Pickering said the challenge had broadened his perspective around careers.
"One of the mottos for the challenge was to see coronavirus as an opportunity more than a crisis," he said. "That can be further broadened to any opportunity - you can see an opportunity in anything.
"I started researching in my own time about entrepreneurship. Now I really want to start my own business and hopefully develop this idea to be world-renowned."
Mr Bowen said the challenge helped him expand on his passion for STEM - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
"It's been great to finally have a subject at school where I can really take advantage of my passion for technology and invest into it," he said.
"This is probably the first time I have ever used my knowledge of computers and technology outside of my own home projects."
Miss Sukkel said the challenge also highlighted the diversity of STEM.
"For me, I'm more of an artist and more of a gardener than I am a real tech person," she said. "STEM is so much more about how you bring these ideas together.
"It's got all of these different elements. It's not just about how you can work with the nitty-gritty details, It's about the big picture and how you can bring our ideas forward."
The Bendigo winners have been awarded technology prizes, as well as further Telstra industry mentoring.
All of the finalist pitches from the challenge can be viewed at youngchangeagents.com/partners/victoria-department-education
Mr Wiggins said students could also find information about other industry design challenges at bendigotechschool.edu.au
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