(Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.)

While teachers and administrators may not like it, it seems that the students of today are constantly attached to their phones and laptops. Instead of fighting this change, though, a group at Bordentown Regional High School is looking to further integrate technology in their curriculums. This group is the Technology Student Association, and the group just got its first taste of success this year.

The BRHS TSA Executive Board participated in the State Leadership Conference for the first time on Nov. 21 at The College of New Jersey and received second place in the design competition out of over 20 schools, only ranking behind Howell High School.

According to the state website, TSA is a club “devoted exclusively to the needs of technology education students” and is supported by “educators, parents, and business leaders who believe in the need for a technologically literate society.” The organization has over 190,000 student participants nationwide. In the BRHS chapter, which was established over 15 years ago, there are around 32 club participants and 6 officers. This year, TSA also has a new advisor in Archna Ashish, who joined BRHS this year as a computer science and robotics teacher.

On the day of the conference in November, the executive board members came to TCNJ along with Ashish, and were first situated by the event organizers and state officers, before being introduced to the first half of the conference: the design challenge. “There was a zipline-type challenge where we had to get a person from one side to another. We had limited resources, like a paper clip, a sheet of paper, glue, and a rubber band,” said club president Adam Miros. “We also only had one hour to figure the design out given those materials.”

For this design challenge, as treasurer and junior Matthew Kunkler explained, there wasn’t much preparation done beforehand, not only because the challenge wasn’t revealed until the conference, but because the board was using this opportunity “to test the waters” for future competitions.

Though there wasn’t much preparation, the team worked efficiency for the hour to overcome its fair share of obstacles.

Initially, the team “didn’t fully understand what we needed to do with the materials.” As they explored the materials, they decided that their “strategy was to get halfway (on the zipline),” Kunkler said. “In terms of design, there were a lot of times with structure where we had to go back and see where weight was and where the support was.”

The criteria for scoring included distance, time and resource management, design, write-up, sketch, and craftsmanship, among others. Kunkler believes the team excelled in resource and time management, write-up and sketch, however he thinks that the halfway distance hurt them from reaching first place.

Though Ashish was not allowed to provide support during the challenge itself, she was impressed “that without any help or prior experience, they were still able to manage within that one hour time frame to handle that challenge. Their team effort was evident along with the team spirit and their way of thinking.”

The second half of the conference was focused on leadership training and development. Officers were separated by position and learned in groups about their roles in TSA.
“For example, I learned about how to organize the meetings and keep in touch with everyone,” Miros said. “Meanwhile, the secretaries learned how to efficiently take notes.”

‘Not everyone is able to take (technology-related classes), so this gives them an opportunity to integrate technology in their career.’

Different participants in the club appreciated the varying facets of the conference. Reporter and junior Jaspreet Singh “liked the design challenge because we had to work together and follow the set rules to complete it in the time constraint. It was a simulation of what should happen in the TSA club.”

Meanwhile Ashish, who attended a bootcamp for TSA before the leadership conference, also believed the development aspect was vital. “These officers were new and this conference was a great opportunity for them to be with officers of other chapters,” she said. “The state officers were able to guide them and I can now see a big difference in how they are managing the meetings and how they are running the club. The training they got at this leadership conference was definitely very helpful in teaching them how to handle their responsibilities.”

Overall, the BRHS TSA club is ecstatic about their performance and growth from the conference. “Going into it, we weren’t really sure of what was gonna happen, but once we came in second place we were really excited, because this was the first conference we attended this year, and we’re off to a good start,” Singh said.

On April 14, BRHS TSA will look to continue its winning streak by competing at the State High School Conference, also hosted at TCNJ. This conference will also have spots for club members to compete, and will be much more diverse in its structure.

“The competition in the spring is not just robotics or programming,” secretary and sophomore Jessica Martin said. “There’s a lot of different sections; there’s even an essay section in the competition where you can write about technology, so if someone is not that good at programming but is better at writing, they can still participate.”

Outside of attending conferences, the TSA club hosts weekly meetings for its members to explore and tackle different technological issues. “Normally (at these weekly meetings), we go over what we’ve done at the past meeting, we go over fundraising, as well, and we talk about conferences and what we need to do to prepare,” Martin said.

The officers also use these meetings to discuss their projects on integrating technology into the school system and curriculum. Most recently, the club developed an Amazon Alexa news feed stream for BRHS, so “parents can now get news directly from the school,” Miros explained.

Another idea the team has been working on is a video game night, where the club would invite “people to come to the school to play various video games, which would hopefully get people interested in TSA and technology in general,” Martin said.

Ashish said that TSA hopes to hold more information sessions “so that we can make the community more aware of the existence of TSA and what we do,” she said. “It’s not just about robotics, it’s about various aspects of technologies, including even fashion design and technology. There’s a need to create that awareness so that we can have more student interest and members.”

The TSA executive board members all had varying reasons for initially joining the club. While Miros was interested in technology integration and the social aspect of the club, and Singh was motivated by his goal to pursue a STEM related career. Regardless of their reasons, they all believe the club is impactful and necessary. “The demand for technology is increasing, and anyone that joins TSA can learn more,” Singh said.

“I definitely like being part of this organization so that I can provide others more information about technology,” Martin added.

“There is definitely an increased awareness about technology, a lot of students are coming in with an interest in technology, and TSA is a technology organization,” Ashish said. “Not everyone is able to take (technology-related classes), so this gives them an opportunity to integrate technology in their career.”

Ashish concludes with her evaluation of the club’s performance this year so far and hopes for the future. “I am very much encouraged by the membership that I’ve seen,” she said. “In the past years, there was not that much interest. This year, I’m seeing increased participation, where students are bringing in valuable suggestions and we are working together. My officers are helping me running the organization, and I hope to see TSA grow better and better and bring more technology into our curriculum.” Ashish hopes that the team will excel at the state competition in April and will qualify for TSA Nationals in June.

The BRHS TSA officers are Adam Miros (president), Evan Braasch (vice president), Jessica Martin (secretary), Matthew Kunkler (treasurer), Morgan West (sergeant-at-arms) and Jaspreet Singh (reporter). For more information on TSA, visit: njtsa.tcnj.edu/about-tsa.