OLMC Students win DePaul Catholic High School’s STEM Competition

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel School (Boonton) was crowned champion of DePaul Catholic High School’s seventeenth annual Science Challenge. The Classical Catholic school, whose liberal-arts curriculum emphasizes an encounter with the Great Books, was represented by Aoife Flaherty, Sean Garry, Jude Huresky, and Molly Webber (all of the Class of 2018), and directed by Mrs. Ann Marie Cicala. OLMC faced stiffed competition from eight other schools as the students worked together to complete a demanding challenge of physics and engineering.

Each team was given forty minutes to build a stand-alone, portable structure out of nothing but paper and tape that could bear the weight of a textbook. The students were given a cost list for materials and instructed to design the most cost-effective structure possible. The OLMC team quickly got to work, meticulously evaluating each element of the challenge and dividing up tasks among themselves. Aoife Flaherty credited the seamless teamwork of her fellow STEM scholars with the victory: “Each of us had our own jobs that fit perfectly with everyone else’s as we worked together.”

The students immediately recognized what the structure would require for sufficient strength, applying what they had discovered in Science class and the school’s STEM club. The team attributed its success to the knowledge and wisdom gained from OLMC’s Science teacher and STEM Club facilitator, Mrs. Ann Marie Cicala. “Through our work on roller coasters, Mrs. Cicala introduced us to the physical science and engineering concepts used to build a sound structure,” said Mr. Huresky. “We learned that triangles are the strongest shape, and we based our entire project on that building block.”

Before becoming a classical teacher at OLMC, Mrs. Cicala, a New Jersey Institute of Technology graduate, was a practicing industrial engineer who worked in manufacturing environments with sealants, vending machines, and artificial implants. She has decades’ long experience in education, having volunteered for educational programs to train factory employees in math, measurement devices, and blueprint reading. Mrs. Cicala expressed great pride in the OLMC team: “Our students worked both hard and smart. The result was a truly exceptional structure at an extraordinarily low cost.” She further praised the team for conducting itself with the utmost maturity. “While I am exceedingly pleased with today’s win, I am equally proud of the students’ behavior during the event. They were friendly, polite and gracious winners.”

Mr. Douglas Minson, OLMC’s headmaster, seconded the school’s delight in its scholars. "I'm so proud of our students and Mrs. Cicala. They showed both ingenuity and teamwork-- precisely the kind of analytical skill and the good character that are at the heart of our curriculum at Our Lady of Mount Carmel," he said.

With its win, the team was able to bring back to the school the grand prize of $250. Much more valuable was the students’ fortified love of learning. “I’m so grateful to DePaul for giving us the opportunity to challenge ourselves in this way,” said Mr. Garry. “It feels great to take what we’re learning in Science and create something so successful out of it.” OLMC’s headmaster agreed: "At the end of the day, success in STEM fields is not about solving yesterday's puzzles; it's about learning to respond to new and unanticipated challenges. By preparing students to think well, our Classical curriculum is ideally suited to position them to thrive in any and every field.