Westmoreland duo, HP pair take top places at AFRL challenge


The Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate STEM Outreach Program, powered by Griffiss Institute and the Innovare Advancement Center has announced that teams from Westmoreland and Holland Patent have taken the top places in the 12th Annual AFRL Challenge Competition that took place virtually last week.

Earning top honors were :

First place — Sean Firsching and Brandon Massett, Westmoreland High School. (Adviser: Nick Darrah)

Second Place — Glen Gaige and James Gillett, Holland Patent High School (Adviser: Richard Zacek)

This year, the students competed for college scholarships. Both first place students received a $3,000 scholarship, both second place students received a $2,000 scholarship.

The third place students, Dominick Cangialosi and Stone Mercurio, of Rome, each received a $1,000 scholarship. 

Each remaining student received a $500 scholarship. The other four schools that participated were:

Trajen Masner and Webster Potter, Oneida High School. (Adviser: Pete Gillander)

Eric Noga and Jason Reid, Oriskany High School. (Adviser: Teresa Mann)

Louis Robinson and Jonathan Rush, Thomas R. Proctor High School (Adviser: Samantha Dewan)

Alexandria Celia and Leah Tracy Whitesboro High School (Adviser: Stephen Costanza)

The Challenge Competition is an annual competitive STEM initiative for local high school students. It is held during a week when students are on a school break and its intent is to provide a more realistic view into the types of high-tech problems the nation is facing today, and how engineers and researchers go about dissecting and solving these problems. The best explanation to describe the competition is “mental marathon.”

“These students showed up for an unknown, complex challenge, in an unfamiliar field, persevering over the course of five intense and often frustrating days. They rapidly acquired and applied knowledge, developed an optimized machine learning algorithm and delivered their findings to judges via a virtual presentation. They did outstanding work. It was our pleasure to support these students,” said Shelby Barrett, AFRL/RI STEM outreach coordinator.

This year’s challenge problem was developed by the Information Intelligence Systems and Analysis Division of ARFL/RI and the challenge this year was for the students to find an optimal solution to a turn and grid-based game. The goal was for an airman to escape enemy territory and collect intel, if possible, after surviving a compromised flyby mission. The challenge combined ideas from war-gaming, game theory, decision theory, robotics, and reinforcement learning.

The teams received the challenge problem upon arrival Monday morning, and had the next three days to solve it. AFRL/RI engineers and scientists were on hand virtually to answer questions regarding the challenge problem throughout the week. On Friday, virtual judging took place in the morning, followed by a virtual awards ceremony where local dignitaries; Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo, Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, and Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, were on hand to support, congratulate, and recognize students.


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