Ben Shuman and Robotics Team from Niceville HS Named State Winner of Samsung Solve For Tomorrow Contest

Ben Shuman, a technology teacher at Niceville High School, and the Robotics Team were recently named the Florida state winner of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow education contest is designed to excite students about the possibilities of STEM education and give schools across the U.S. the opportunity to raise interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects among students by awarding their schools with a share of over $2 million in technology products.

The finalists in Florida proposed projects that included piloting a research study on the intervention of text messaging, internet and social media to impact decision making regarding risky behaviors; developing a diesel or electric bus to improve fuel efficiency to decrease district's transportation operating costs; bringing the concepts of a green building to the outside campus by creating a habitat that showcases native plant species in order to attract native fauna; and establishing water quality testing stations.

“Our idea came from a conversation we had a few years ago about wishing we (the robot team) had our own custom bus with power hookups and other geek things,” said Shuman.  “Our submission is for a proof of concept diesel electric hybrid school bus with solar panels on top.  We can harvest old cooking oil from local food establishments and make our own bio-diesel.  Then the follow on conversation went to what if the entire fleet was hybrids with the solar panels on top.  During the day when the buses are parked outside, the panels would be generating surplus electricity which could be plugged back into the grid "generating" revenue for the district.  Anyway, that's the idea.  Next step is lesson plans and proof of concept.”

As a State Winner, Shuman will receive a Samsung camcorder and laptop to create a video showcasing their solution to the challenge.  State Winners will also receive a minimum of $20,000 in technology for their school and will go on to compete at the National level.

Out of the 51 State Winners, fifteen National finalists will be chosen by March and their videos will be placed online for public voting.  All National Finalists will receive a minimum of $35,000 in technology for their school.  In April, the fifteen National Finalists will be narrowed down to five National Winners. One will be decided via online voting on, another will be selected by Samsung employees, and three will be selected by a panel of judges during an in-person event where all fifteen National Finalists present their projects.  All five winners selected will receive a technology grant of $120,000 and will be invited to an awards celebration hosted in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

“We are so blessed to have you mentoring and leading our students,” said CHOICE IT Specialist, April Branscome.  “Thank you for your endless and tireless dedication to your students and your profession.  Again, congratulations on another job well done!”

Ben and the Robotics team were also recently featured on WEAR-TV. Below is the script from their interview:

Niceville robotics team designing energy-saving school bus

What if someone could design an energy-saving school bus that was cleaner and cheaper to run? The Niceville High School robotics team is working on it and they might win a hundred grand in technology prizes for their school.

"To follow this story, you'll need a few vocabulary words. These are geeks. Actually they're called the "Radioactive Roaches", but we'll get to all that in a minute. You'll also need to know "cheesewagon" and "roach coach".... let's just jump right in."

The Radioactive Roaches are the robotics team at Niceville High School. They travel to competitions in what teacher Ben Shuman calls a cheesewagon.... you know, cheese, yellow, school bus.... all right. During one long ride, they talked about how you would make a cheesewagon more efficient.... after all, that's what geeks do.

Ben Shuman says "I'm surprised every day because... I'll have this preconceived idea of a solution, someone will go 'Mr. Shuman, we could do it this way.' I'll go.... that's a great idea."

What if it was a hybrid.... a diesel hybrid, a biodiesel hybrid.... after all there are lots of local restaurants to provide leftover cooking oil for fuel. What if you put solar panels on top, to increase the efficiency?
"It's a diesel-electric hybrid with a solar panel assist." 

That's the idea they submitted to Samsung's "Solve for Tomorrow" competition. They found out Thursday they're the state winners. But here in the clubhouse, they have a different name for the project.

"So a cheesewagon plus a radioactive roach equals...." Thomas "Roach coach." Laura "A roach coach, you can say it proudly." Thomas "It's a little cringe-worthy, but yeah, I can say it proudly." 

If they win at the national level, they'll get more than a hundred thousand dollars in technology prizes for their school. The long-term goal is a fleet of roach coaches, saving the school district and taxpayers money.

Ben Shuman says "You take something as mundane as a school bus or a cheesewagon. And you transform it into something that could potentially change the culture of your local community."