News Release

Center for Energy Workforce Development Announces National STEM Challenge Winners

Derby High School (KS) Takes Top Prize; Louisa County High School (VA) Awarded Second

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 20, 2021 – Students from Derby High School, in Derby, Kansas, were today announced as the winners in the 2021 National STEM Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the Center for Energy Workforce Development. The contest challenged students to present innovative plans to reduce their school’s carbon footprint while increasing comfort conditions, and delivering a net-zero impact to their community. Louisa County High School, from Louisa, Virginia, took home second place honors in the battle that pitted regional winners against one another.

The winning team of students from Derby High School responded to the challenge with the creation of Project DIG, an initiative that focuses on decreasing waste, increasing efficiency, and growing a garden. The nine-person team – supported by a school advisor, district energy managers, and multiple representatives from local energy company, Evergy – provided compelling solutions and quantitative measures to make their school more energy efficient. Derby High School will receive $1,000 in recognition of the students’ efforts and all participants from the program will receive individual prizes.

Aneesa Abdul-Hameed, one of the students on the Derby High School team shared: “My favorite part of the competition was thinking outside the box. I’m very analytical and it was a challenge to work on something that does not have a definite answer and can vary depending on how you interpret it.” Abdul-Hameed, continued, “I learned that there are simple things that we can do to help save money while also looking out for the planet in the long run.”

Students from Louisa County High School, developed Wireless on Wheels, or WOW, a program that provides wireless, portable solar panel stations throughout the community. The WOW stations offer community members in rural Virginia access to free WiFi, responding to a need necessitated by the pandemic. 

“The National STEM Innovation Challenge, initially conceptualized by the Virginia Energy Workforce Development Consortium, encourages students to apply technical knowledge and skills by assessing information, testing hypotheses, and problem solving,” noted Julie Strzempko who managed CEWD’s competition. “Through this exciting challenge, students have the ability to gain project management experience, including teamwork, solution formulation, and presentation skills – aptitudes that are so crucial in the energy sector.”

“I was so impressed with the work the students did to compete in the CEWD challenge,” emphasized Maureen Wilt, a Senior Education Program Manager with Florida Power and Light. Wilt elaborated, “I love meeting students who are interested in the energy sector, and what comes next in technology and innovation. Students that are exploring the STEM Innovation Challenge are exactly who we need to move the industry forward.”

Darius Johnson, Vice President of Employee Development and Engagement at Dominion Energy and a judge for the Challenge, voiced the collective thoughts of all involved in this year’s program: “Based on the thinking, innovation, and creativity exhibited by the students participating in the program, the future of our workforce is indeed bright.”

Information about the 2022 STEM Challenge will be posted later this year on

About the CEWD

Formed in March 2006, the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) is a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations, contractors, unions, and educators united in building a skilled workforce pipeline that will meet future industry needs.