“We wanted to provide a low-cost way for kids to experience aerospace,” says Lane Slagle, Founder and Director of Starfish Education. “Our mission is to get kids excited and engaged.”

That engagement takes the form of the Electric Propulsion Innovation Challenge (EPIC). Now in its 7th year, the annual game teaches kids key aerospace concepts, allows them to design and fly a low-cost tethered plane, and provides interaction with mentors and coaches.

The EPIC STEM Challenge offers a different STEM-focused aerospace game each year, and this year’s game, called “Some Assembly Required,” will see student teams design, build, and fly an electric airplane that will only become fully assembled after being removed from a specified box. Teams of up to three, with an adult advisor, use a stock 3-6v electric motor and tools like a soldering gun, hand drill, and hot glue gun to design the airplane that they think will best perform the game task.

The challenge is designed for kids grades 6-12, and is incorporated into school curriculum, capstone projects, and after-school offerings at places like 4-H and the Boys and Girls Clubs. The culmination of their work is the fly-off scheduled for January.

Teams earn points through tasks in game, level-up challenges, and display boards. The board, “is an opportunity to show what they learned through the project,” and is akin to project documentation required in the world of work. While teams earn the most points completing game tasks, Lane stresses that there are many ways for kids to be successful during the game. The focus throughout is on inclusivity and participation.

Lane and Starfish bring together a group of engineers and educators to plan each year’s challenge. “There are lots of options for young people interested in IT and robotics,” says Lane, “but not low-cost ways for young people to engage in aerospace. The EPIC STEM Challenge fills that void.”

“If you want to get involved, we will find a place for you,” says Lane. A coaches workshop is set to take place June 24th. If you’re interested in becoming a coach or sponsor, you can find out more at https://www.epicstemchallenge.com. The Center of Excellence is a proud sponsor of this year’s challenge.