Upon arriving in San Jose, Calif., the 30 Broadcom MASTERS finalists (all middle school aged aspiring scientists and engineers) had little time to be think as they met their new team members and competed in ice breaker challenges such as Lego building, a giant Jenga game and a brainteaser about tying a rope together, all of which forced them to communicate and problem solve.

Collaboration, communication and teamwork will be stressed throughout the competition. “In the Broadcom MASTERS, it is important that members of a team quickly learn the strengths of each individual member and how they can efficiently and creatively tap into their collective talents to solve problems,” said Paula Golden, President of the Broadcom Foundation and Director, Community Affairs, Broadcom. “Collaborating together to engage in critical thinking, communication and creativity are the 21st century skills young people need to succeed as scientists and engineers – and in life.”

MASTERS 2015 public day

Photo Credit: Society for Science and the Public

On the first day of competition, the finalists, clad in formal wear, traveled to the Computer History Museum to present their projects to judges who come from STEM education and professional backgrounds. Though a few finalists showed some excited jitters, others acted as though they have competed like this many times before. Indeed, to be a Broadcom MASTER, all the finalists must have all placed in the top 10 percent of their regional or state science and engineering fairs.

“When I first learned about the Broadcom MASTERS national competition, I really wanted to compete at that high level,” said one finalist.  “Last year I was selected as a semifinalist, but not a finalist.  I tried again this year, and I was really happy to receive the news that I made the finalist cut.”

That afternoon, the finalists  were greeted by the public, including families and employees from Broadcom. “The way these kids express themselves and introduce new concepts is very impressive,” said Rghu Dendukuri, field applications engineer, technologist, Broadcom.  “I enjoyed the wireless control devices that are similar to what we do at Broadcom. They are just kids, but already ahead of what most of us are doing!”

As the finalists presented their projects to the public, Bay Area children intently listened and asked questions about the finalists’ research methods and discoveries.

With more than 770 people attending, this year’s Public Showcase had the highest attendance in the five year history of the competition.

“We are thrilled to have set a record of public attendance this year,” said Allison Stifel, Assistant Director, Science Education Programs and Manager, Broadcom MASTERS.  “It was terrific to see many Broadcom MASTERS alums at the reunion we held in conjunction with the Project Showcase, including a few members of the very first Broadcom MASTERS class who are continuing in STEM at universities like Stanford.”

MASTERS 2015 boat tripThe next day proved to be just as jam-packed, starting with an early morning trip to the Marine Science Institute in San Francisco Bay.  After boarding a research vessel and heading out to sea, finalists learned about the habitat and ecology of the bay.  Working in teams, the finalists became researchers themselves by gathering data from various species of marine life that inhabit the estuary of San Francisco Bay, including baby sharks, flounder crabs and plankton.

The finalists then analyzed their data and engineered a design for a research vessel, drawing inspiration from the marine species that they observed. Teams then presented their designs before the judges and other finalists to demonstrate their collective and individual communication skills.

Continuing this week there will be more STEM challenges, first of which will be at Santa Clara University, focusing on civil engineering and biology.  With university students as mentors and guides, finalists will be presented with real-world problems and tasked with finding solutions as a team. Chief Judge Bill Wallace told the finalists that that the competition turns not on what they know, but how they think and problem solve as a team.

“All of the challenges were hands-on, which I really liked,” said one finalist.  “I learned a lot working with my team especially on the biology challenge.”

To keep up with the Broadcom MASTERS on Twitter, use hashtag #brcmMASTERS or follow Broadcom and SSP. And to stay connected, visit the Broadcom MASTERS and SSP Facebook pages.