Green Heart STEM Challenge 2024: Students Solve Water Justice Issues in Atlanta and Houston

Captain Planet Foundation celebrated the work of over 350 student finalists across metro Atlanta and Houston at the Green Heart STEM Challenge for Environmental Justice finale events. This program, designed by Captain Planet Foundation and its partners, challenges young people to explore and identify environmental justice issues in their communities and to design feasible solutions to address these problems.

Houston Judges Panel (Steven David, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor John Whitmire, Meera Victor, Vice President of Carollo Engineers, Riya Santra, Senior Analyst, Accenture) are joined by the High School Green Heart STEM Challenge winners from Chavez High School

In its second year, the 2024 Green Heart STEM Challenge engaged students across both metro Atlanta and metro Houston. Each year the challenge identifies a specific theme inspired by the Planeteer elements; and this year’s theme was Water Justice. Participating students spent three months learning about water pollution, flooding, and water scarcity and studying how these realities impact the places they call home. With the help of their teachers, each team identified the root cause of an issue, then designed a solution to address it in an effective way. 

At each finale event, three teams from each age group – Primary, Junior and Senior – pitched their solution to a panel of judges. The judging panels were made up of professionals from the environmental field who exemplify advocacy in environmental justice within their careers. Equally inspired by the work of the youth standing in front of them, judges helped the students consider various factors of implementing their solutions.

DeKalb Judging Panel & CPF leadership (left to right): BACK ROW: Lakeisha Sesay, Public Sector Strategy Consultant, Accenture; Leesa Carter-Jones, President & CEO, Captain Planet Foundation; Doll Avant, CEO of Aquagenuity; Sterling J. Johnson, Director, Just Opportunity Portfolio​ Partnership for Southern Equity; Andrei Greenwood Creative Director, Taproot Earth; FRONT ROW:  Robin Okunowo, Program Manager of Planeteer Alliance, Captain Planet Foundation; Daniel Blackman; Senior Director, Office of STEM Diversity, EPA, ; Sofi Armenakian,  Sustainability Director, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena.

The winning teams from each age group receive an implementation grant of $1,000 to carry out their solution and will attend the Idea Incubator week-long summer camp, where they will work with professionals from Captain Planet Foundation transform their idea into reality.

The final events in both cities rallied excitement around solving water justice issues. As the students witnessed their peers create effective solutions for problems within their community, many gained a realization that the power to create change and stand against injustice was well within their reach. 

Read more about the winning solutions from both metro Atlanta and Houston below. 

Metro Atlanta:

Primary Winner: Team Hard Work, Hawthorne Elementary

Junior Winner: Zeta, Wadsworth Magnet School

Senior Winner: Group 26 Team 4, Fernbank Science Center

Metro Houston:

Primary Winner: Bulldog Water Patrol

Junior Winner: Green Giants

Senior Winner: Chavez HS