EVANSVILLE, INDIANA — The tension is thick in Eykamp Hall at the University of Evansville. For a group of 38 high school students, the stakes are high with a full ride to the University of Evansville on the line.
The students, one team at a time, take the stage, pitching their vision for the community’s future, a way to change the Tri-State for the better. This is the Changemaker Challenge, a competition pitting high school students against each other to come up with the most innovative ideas to help move the community forward.
“Makes me feel really, really good about the future of our city, the future of our region, the future of our country,” Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, R.-Evansville, one of the judges, said.
The students proposed bike-share programs, gardening curriculums, even a writing therapy for veterans suffering with PTSD, to name a few.
“I heard real solutions to these problems and I expect you’re going to see as we move forward some of these ideas starting to become very real,” University of Evansville President Tom Kazee said.
While the judges said all the presentations were feasible and could possibly be implemented in the near future, there could only be one winner. At the end of the afternoon, it was three Castle High School students – Hannah Jaramillo, Cody Smith and Austin Fonseca – that reigned victorious.
“We’re just kind of in shock right now,” Smith said. “This is just absolutely incredible.”
“I thought maybe second, maybe third, but definitely not first,” Fonseca said.
“Oh my gosh,” Smith’s mother, Dana, said. “I’m the most proud mom in the world. This is fabulous.”
The team from Castle proposed what they called a “Communi-tree,” a Wi-Fi and power hub to help get people outdoors while staying connected to their electronic devices.
“The way it started out, I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw a meme that said it’s a shame trees don’t put out Wi-Fi signals because people would be planting them all the time,” Jaramillo said. “It’s unfortunatae they only put out the air we breathe.”
The second, third and fourth place teams also received partial scholarships to the University of Evansville.