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March 29, 2018

Colorado Technology Student Association State Conference Leads to Rewarding Experience

By: Tom Liszka

Earlier this year, as part of its NextUp initiative to interest teens in tech careers, CompTIA partnered with the Technology Student Association (TSA) to expand STEM opportunities, competitions, and leadership development.

Soon after this partnership was announced, my state of residence, Colorado, was hosting their annual TSA State Conference. This conference brings student members together with business, industry and community leaders in a competitive showcase that recognizes both technological skill and leadership development.

With plans to attend the national event later this year, I made the journey south to get a taste of the state-level competition and took in everything that I could in one day, although to be honest, you would need at least three full days to capture everything. It was a conference packed with young minds full of creativity and excitement, all in the name of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) education. Here are some of the highlights…


Catapult Design

CatapultI started the conference at the catapult design station because I for one think it’s fascinating to launch an object across the room via machine. Participants had to design and produce a working catapult, within specific guidelines of course, that was adjustable and propelled hollow plastic golf balls at a target between 15’ and 25’ away. Every time the golf ball hit, or came within a certain distance of the target, a range of points were awarded.


To watch the precision at which these catapults were hitting their targets speaks volumes to the time and dedication the student teams put into perfecting the overall design, launch angles and launch speeds. IT. WAS. AWESOME.



DragsterNext up was dragster design, where participants designed and produced a race-worthy CO2-powered dragster according to specifications and using only specified materials. The theme for the 2018 challenge was Throwback Design Challenge, meaning back in history to the late 1970s when there were no “shell bodied cars.” For the competition, all four wheels were required to be completely exposed, so no part of the body could cover any part of the front or back wheels.


The rate at which these cars flew down the track was incredible. How fast you ask? Well, I made nice with the “car launcher guys” and had them do a test run so I could capture one on video. Even with a countdown, by the time I panned my camera to the end of the track to catch up with the car, it had already crossed the finish line. That’s how fast. Precise design and ultimate execution from the participants left me extremely impressed.


Technology Problem Solving

TechnologyProblemSolvingIn technology problem solving, participants had to work together to develop and create a solution to a problem using the limited materials provided and the tools allowed. The twist? Participants didn’t know what the challenge was until they showed up! Imagine that. You are told of a problem on-site and then are provided a box of materials to fix said problem. Wow! The critical thinking skills put to use by these students under a 2-hour time limit was on full display. INTENSE!


Other Competitive Events

Last, but certainly not least, was the giant convention hall full of state competitive events ready to be put to the test. With my handy all access pass, I was able to walk around the hall before all the craziness began.


I first checked out fashion design, where students had the opportunity to research, develop and create garment designs, mock-ups and portfolios that reflected the 2018 theme, American History. Teams then participated in an on-site event in which they presented their potential designs, explaining the significance of the fashion items in the period and place they studied.


Next, I made my way over to the mousetrap tractor pull table. The purpose of this event was to allow students to demonstrate their ability to design and construct a vehicle powered only by a standard mousetrap spring. The vehicle was tested by having it pull as much weight as possible over a set distance.


After that was robotic design, where participants designed, built and tested a remote-controlled robot to carry out a specific challenge, which was to navigate through the rubble of a collapsed building caused by an earthquake. A gas leak inside the building had been discovered, so the mission was to find the source of the leak and turn off the gas as soon as possible. 



My absolute favorite was the architectural design section, and that’s not to take away from everything else I’ve already mentioned. First off, I am a huge fan of The Sims, and this reminded me of the classic PC game. Secondly, the annual architectural design challenge was quite applicable to type of house I am interested in, even if my wife thinks it’s a pipedream. For this event, participants had to develop a set of architectural plans and related materials for a shipping container house (!!!!) and construct a physical as well as computer-generated model to accurately depict their design. How cool! The amount of detail put into these houses was something I always prided myself on when playing The Sims, and these participants were able to bring that to life, even if it was a miniature scale model. It was remarkable. 


I was glad to have the opportunity to check out a state-level event. Witnessing the young minds at work in all sorts of STEAM-related activities only confirms that our partnership with the National TSA is going to be one of great value.



For me, the Colorado State Competition has set the stage for the main event, the rapidly approaching National TSA Conference, where students from all across the United States will be under one roof. To say I’ll be overwhelmed is an understatement, but to be able to watch future STEAM leaders use the depths of their minds to solve problems and design the unthinkable will be an extremely rewarding experience.


How Can You Get Involved?

CompTIA members and IT pros can help inspire students at TSA’s National Conference, June 22-26, in Atlanta, by showcasing their careers, companies and/or technologies. 

  1. Sign up by April 20 for a free table within CompTIA’s pavilion at the TSA Meet & Greet on Sunday, June 24, from 1 to 5 pm. Limited spots available.
  2. Send a Subject Matter Expert to lead a 50-minute Special Interest session, in which as many as 70 students and teachers may participate. With a limited availability, sessions can be held the afternoon of June 23, 24 or 25. TSA has final approval on all session topics and speakers.
  3. Give logoed-gifts to conference attendees during the keynote and motivation sessions. No fee is required, but 8,000 (for the keynote) or 2,000 (for the motivation sessions) of the same item must be sent in advance of the conference. TSA staff will distribute the gifts on-site.
  4. Volunteer to serve as a judge for the contests.

Help fill the tech pipeline and reach your corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals by meeting firsthand, the next generation of technologists. Contact Susan Kostbar for details on these unique opportunities at TSA’s national conference.