This morning, organizers of Kansas City’s beloved K-12 competition for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) hosted the 2019 Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains Awards Ceremony. The top 20 finalist group, including a team from Gardner Edgerton High School, received more than $155,000 in grants for STEM education. Submitted photo

Gardner Edgerton High School became one of the top 20 finalists in the 2019 Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains Awards, placing the school participants in the top two percent of all participants this year. The top 20 finalist groups received more than $155,000 in grants for STEM education. Each finalist group received at least $2,500.
The year produced record participation, with 840 proposals and 270 schools from 50 school districts. The competition attracted 7,250 students.
Organizers of Kansas City’s K-12 competition for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) presented Tonganoxie Middle School with the grand prize in Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. The seven-student team’s carnival-themed exhibit earned the school $50,000 in grant money and the opportunity to work with STEM professionals at Burns & McDonnell to transform the idea into a $1 million exhibit at Science City.
“For most people, carnivals are about games, rides and cotton candy,” says Ray Kowalik, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell. “The team from Tonganoxie Middle School went a step further and uncovered the physics behind all of the fun. That’s the magic of STEM: It’s part of everything around us. Our hope is these ‘a-ha’ moments will make kids more curious about STEM and, ultimately, STEM careers.”
Tonganoxie Middle School’s exhibit explores STEM concepts through popular carnival games. While knocking down a pyramid of milk jugs may appear easy, these types of games are often difficult to win. Instead of skill or coordination, students spotlight how these games are based on the laws of physics. Learning the science behind carnival games helps increase the chances of winning.
* Grand Prize: $50,000 – “Step Right Up,” Tonganoxie Middle School, Tonganoxie School District
* Second Place: $25,000 – “Color and Light District,” Olathe East High School, Olathe School District
* Third Place: $20,000 – “Puzzling Patterns,” Wolf Springs Elementary, Blue Valley School District
* Fourth Place: $15,000 – “Welcome to DenCITY!,” Delta Woods Middle School, Blue Springs School District
* Fifth Place: $10,000 – “Backyard Explorers,” Alexander Doniphan Elementary, Liberty School District
Judges, comprised of STEM professionals from Burns & McDonnell and Science City, followed a stringent evaluation process to rank entries according to specific criteria, ranging from creativity and inspiration to how interactive and engaging the exhibit could be with visitors. More than 50,000 public votes were cast for the top 20 exhibits, accounting for 30 percent of the judging.
“We literally travel the world to find the most unique, memorable and engaging exhibits for our visitors to experience,” says George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station. “Some of our most popular exhibits, however, continue to be those dreamed up by area kids — most not even old enough to drive. Yet, their imaginations are limitless and connect with us all, just like Tonganoxie Middle School’s STEM-focused carnival theme. I can’t wait to see it come to life at Science City.”
The exhibit inspired by Tonganoxie Middle School’s submission will be the sixth exhibit produced through Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. Launched in 2011 with a goal of sparking greater interest in STEM education and careers, the competition has delivered five interactive exhibits at Science City, valued together at more than $4 million: Science of Energy, Genetics: Unlock the Code, Every Last Drop, Simple Machines at Play and The Amazing Brain. In addition, Burns & McDonnell has invested in two additional exhibits: Science on a Sphere and the Burns & McDonnell Engineerium. Over the last eight years, more than 25,000 metro students have participated in the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains.
Founded by two entrepreneurs in 1898, Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies made up of 7,000 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants and innovators with offices across the country and throughout the world.
Science City, Kansas City’s Science Center, which opened in 1999, has been named one of the country’s TOP 25 science centers by Parents Magazine. And named “Attraction of the Year” in Heart of Kansas City Awards. Science City annually educates and entertains hundreds of thousands of science-thirsty children of all ages.