Statesman Journal: McKay High students beat college teams in tech competition, win nearly $23,000
Author: Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal
Posted: September 27, 2017

Read the original story in the Statesman Journal.

3D printers cost $1,500 to upwards of $14,000 and can create anything from a tape dispenser or action figure to human prosthetics or a new car. 

For four McKay High School seniors, one of these compact machines could open a world of possibilities for their Math Engineering Science Achievement team.

But without money in the school's budget, Lorenzo Alvarez, Luis Castro Castro, Saul Martinez Chavarin and Cristofer Flores had to find another way to buy their dream machine.

They found their inspiration in cafeteria waste  — water bottles, plates, utensils — and soon discovered that 300 pounds of plastic were being disposed of every month by McKay students and staff. 

They decided to turn the plastic into filament, a cord-like material made of recycled plastic that can be melted down and used in 3D printers.

Using a filament conversion kit — rather than a proper machine — and a make-shift extruder, the four young men, their teacher, Katrina Hull, and her husband, Tyler Hull, an engineering student at Portland State University — embarked on a quest.

They call the project RECYCL3D.

A team of students from McKay High School in Salem won all but one category in a Portland State University technology competition in September 2017. They have won nearly $23,000 for their project RECYLCL3D, which converts plastic waste into filament that can be used in 3D printers. (Photo: Katrina Hull)

"It reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills and oceans and turns it into something valuable," Castro Castro said. The team can also sell the filament to bring in money for their school's science, technology, engineering and math programs. 

In June, their project idea won $2,500 in the first round of a Portland State University competition. McKay's team was the only high school group among the 11 original teams.

But that was just the start. 

In September, the group competed against teams that were all college-aged or older in Portland State University's Clean Tech competition. Some teams even had professional scientists and business leaders on board. 

RECYCL3D won every category but one, raking in $22,500 in winnings.

The team is now the proud owner of two 3D printers, along with other machines to help them perfect their filament-making process. They split the remaining $17,500 four ways for college scholarships.

While a couple of the young men plan to pursue engineering-related degrees when they go to college, some aren't sure yet. Regardless, Castro Castro said he wants McKay students after them to be able to continue the work they've started and have similar opportunities.

Four students from McKay High School's Math Engineering Science Achievement group won $10,000 at a competition at Portland State University in September 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of McKay High School)

The team will now represent Portland State University in the InventOR competition in October at OMSI in Portland. They will compete against engineering students from across the state, including students from George Fox and Oregon State universities.

If they win, the team would be awarded an additional $25,000. The team says they'd like to use the money to establish a work space outside Hull's classroom for the Math Engineering Science Achievement team, current and future.

Alvarez said he thinks their story is important because it shows that highschoolers can compete with older students. It's also a story about finding solutions to overcome long odds.

With more than 2,100 students, McKay is one of the most crowded schools in the Salem-Keizer School District. More than 95 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch and 64 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. The school's four-year graduation is below 70 percent, just shy of the district and statewide averages. 

Hull said the project has created not only a learning opportunity for the four students involved, but has cultivated a sustainable culture in her classroom.

Now, she said, when students are finished with a plastic item they immediately ask if it can be used by RECYCL3D.

And there is a waiting list for 3D projects to be printed.