A photo of four people standing smiling. The middle two people are holding a trophy in the state of Kentucky that reads: "STLP."

Luke Mullins and Zach Burkhardt, rising seniors at Trimble County High School, were awarded Best Technical Project at the 2022 Kentucky STLP State Championship on April 20. Their agriculturally-based project, a fence problem finder, is geared towards locating and isolating breaches in an electric fence as a preventative measure before it becomes a problem to the farmer. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sebulsky.

Trimble County High School students Luke Mullins and Zach Burkhardt were raised on family farms in rural north central Kentucky just like the generations before them. Their school’s student technology leadership program (STLP) gave them the opportunity to explore how to improve their farm operations.

After a few brainstorming sessions, the pair decided to focus on a Fence Problem Finder (FPF) system. Damaged fencing can create problems that escalate quickly for farmers. When speaking to their local community, Burkhardt and Mullins met a famer that had a cow become loose and hit by a car. The incident resulted in the farmer sued for liability.

“It’s just something you always deal with … having to walk the fence to look for a problem, you spent a lot of time on that. If you have a pretty large farm like mine, you have to spend several hours looking all over for the place on the fence trying to find one problem. It can be a hassle,” said Burkhardt. “We were trying to think about problems that we needed to solve and that was something that related to us and a lot of the people in the community.”

While FPF systems already exist, their STLP project is geared towards locating and isolating specific breaches in an electric fence. The system divides a fence into several different zones and uses a digital voltage meter to track disruptions in the voltage. When a disruption occurs, the program will send a radio wave signal to an electrical device locating damaged fencing. Whether it’s a fallen tree or any other sort of interruption to the energy flow, the program pinpoints which specific zone contains a problem allowing farmers to efficiently fix the fence.

The pair were awarded the Dave Sigler Best Technical Project in KY award at the 2022 STLP State Championship.  STLP projects help students identify technology rich solutions for community-based problems and work to bring their projects to life. Successful projects showcase the STLP Tech Standards: empowered learner, digital citizenship, knowledge constructor, innovative designer, computational thinker, creative communicator and global collaborator.

Burkhardt and Mullins share nearly 20 years of STLP experience between the two of them.  Burkhardt has been a participant in STLP since 3rd grade and Mullins has been a participant since 4th grade. The win brings an ideal end to their junior year of high school.

“It didn’t seem real. I always looked up to the people who had great ideas and great projects and then for us to be the people who had a great idea was unreal,” said Mullins.

Melissa Burkhardt​, the Trimble County High School STLP coordinator, believes the best way to help the students is to approach their projects with a judge mindset, helping them parse out what questions will arise.

“It boils down to it’s their project, it has to be their dream, their input. It’s not me at all when it comes to these projects. This is truly them,” she said.

Burkhardt and Mullins presented their winning project at the ISTELive educational technology conference in New Orleans, La. on June 27.

A photo of three people standing and smiling. The person in the middle is holding a trophy in the shape of the state of Kentucky that reads: "STLP."

Eli Dotson, a rising senior at Bowling Green High School (Bowling Green Independent) was awarded Best 9-12 Project at the 2022 Kentucky STLP State Championship on April 20. Dotson used his family farm as inspiration for a low-cost open-source GPS system that allows smaller, lower-income farmers to have the same precision tools as larger, higher production farmers. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sebulsky.

Bowling Green Independent Student Wins Best 9-12 Project

Eli Dotson, a rising senior at Bowling Green High School (Bowling Green Independent), was ready to bring new ideas to his nearly 81-year-old grandfather’s 200-acre row-crop farm.

After he finished his work for the day in computer science class, Dotson would work on his personal project – a low-cost precision agriculture system. The project was inspired by online conversations with fellow farmers on how to build an open source software that would give equitable access to precision technology for all farmers, regardless of income or size.

Precision agriculture technology already exists, but can cost in the thousands, something Dotson finds “absolutely ridiculous.”

The system Dotson designed for a few hundred dollars relies on a GPS hooked up to a tiny computer and that relays his tractor’s path to a touchscreen system at the driver’s seat. The system alerts Dotson to the exact location needed for his next pass of chemical sprays in order to not overapply, underapply or skip anything in the field.

“It allows me to run late at night or in poor conditions,” said Dotson. “I am still a high school student. At night, there is a lot of visibility challenges, so this really opens up a whole another realm of possibilities for me.”

The low-cost open-source GPS system allows smaller, lower-income farmers to have the same precision tools as larger, higher production farmers. His technology teacher, Drew Fulkerson, told him it would make a good STLP project and Dotson was happy to have trusted him. Dotson walked away from the STLP State Championship with the award for Best 9-12 Project.

Fulkerson said he is proud of Dotson’s accomplishments and called his work a “perfect scenario.”

“I’ve worked with Eli for a few years and he has great potential to come up with good ideas and he is very passionate about his farm … Here is a passion-driven project and STLP is a platform for him to show everyone what he is doing,” said Fulkerson.

One of the best parts of the project for Dotson has been showing his grandfather his commitment to the family farm.

“As I have gone through this project, and shown it to him, it’s changed the dynamics between me and him. Now he sees that I am trying to bring new things into our operation. I’m trying to keep this alive. I am not just trying to keep the boat floating; I’m trying to move us forward,” he said.

For Dotson, STLP gives people the opportunity to see what educational technology can do when in the hands of students.

“Without the tech classes that we have [at Bowling Green High School], I wouldn’t have been able to have the knowledge or the resources to be able to pull this project off,” he said. “I see people talking about the funding going into technology and the funding going into the Chromebooks and the funding going into the 3D printers, but to actually see the outcomes of that is really amazing.”

Bowling Green Independent highlighted Dotson’s STLP project on their social media accounts with a video showing how the system works on his tractor.

Dotson also presented at the ISTELive educational technology conference in New Orleans, La. alongside other STLP students.