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Three Westview Hills Students to Compete at State Model Water Tower Competition


After placing in the top three at the east regional of the Annual American Water Works Association's Model Water Tower Competition in February, three Westview Hills students will compete in the state competition April 27. Sixth grader Jose Veliz-Hernandez qualified after finishing first in February’s regional competition while an eighth grade team of Oliver Stehlik and Olayemi Orukotan tied for third to qualify to the state contest in Westmont. All three are members of EarthQuest, Westview Hills’ STEM club run by STEM teacher Jessica Wolf-Golbach.

The competition itself involves building a model water tower that can hold at least one gallon of water but no more than two gallons and fits within a square foot or smaller. But the competition is about more than building a functioning model. The scoring is similar to golf where lower scores are better, and the models are judged on five criteria: structural score, hydraulic efficiency, cost efficiency, design ingenuity, and interview.

The structural score relates to the structural integrity and weight of the model.

“The lighter they are to do the job, the better,” Wolf-Golbach said. “You want to try to avoid them from being too heavy.”

Hydraulic efficiency is how long it takes for the water to drain. Having leaks hurts the score. Cost efficiency involves the materials the students use to make their model towers. Wolf-Golbach said the materials students use in their models are “meant to be free and recyclable,” so reusing things that would otherwise be recycled or thrown away helps the students get a better score.

Design ingenuity encourages students to be creative with their designs. According to the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association, students “will be awarded for using creative designs and innovative materials.” The ISAWWA defines a creative model as one “that will function even though it does not look like any other tower.” The use of innovative materials goes back to cost efficiency.

Because the competition's objective is “to make participants aware of the importance of reliable drinking water and the rewarding opportunities available in the water profession,” the interview portion asks five questions relating to the students’ experience of building the tower, what it taught them and about the possibility of working in the water industry.

About two-thirds of EarthQuest members competed in the water tower regional competition, and all three grades at Westview Hills were represented. Students can compete and build a model by themselves or in pairs. Wolf-Golbach said there were seven or eight towers from Westview Hills at the regional competition.

After this year’s session of the club began in January, the students who wanted to participate in the water tower competition spent a few club meetings building their models. 2019 marks the third year of the competition, and this year’s regional competition was earlier than in previous years. Wolf-Golbach admitted the shorter amount of time had them a little panicked, but overall the building process and competition is “a fun challenge for the kids.”

Building the models lets the students have unique hands-on experience and workshop time and teaches the students valuable STEM lessons.

“Meeting requirements, that’s one of the big things we teach in STEM, especially in engineering and design,” Wolf-Golbach said. “Being aware of what your requirements are, what fits your criteria, and then designing a solution that will best meet all of those is a huge part of it, because there’s a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re building something like this.”

For the EarthQuest trio competing in the state competition, their focus is to improve their models by making mild modifications based on the feedback and scores they got at regionals. When it comes to finding solutions and what works for the models, Wolf-Golbach is there to help as the club adviser but allows the students to learn for themselves.

“I try not to be too bossy with what they’re doing,” she said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, no, you can’t do that.’ I might make some suggestions. But if it’s their design and they have something a certain way, I’ll let them give it a try and see how it works rather than flat-out say ‘That’s not going to work.’”


Veliz-Hernandez and the team of Stehlik and Orukotan may have some issues with their models they must address before competing at state, like how to best seal the tower or how to support the pipe from which the water drains, but Wolf-Golbach isn’t worried.

“We feel comfortable. We feel prepared,” she said.

Beyond STEM lessons and learning about the water industry, Veliz-Hernandez, Stehlik, and Orukotan, along with the other state competitors have a chance at a more tangible prize.

Thanks to sponsors, the model water tower competition now awards scholarship money to the first, second and third place finishers. Wolf-Golbach said $1500 will be awarded for first place, $1000 to second place and $500 to third place.

“That’s pretty good,” she said of the scholarship amounts. “You know, when you’re just in middle school, you’re not even thinking about college yet. … It’s hard to understand it at that age, but every bit helps. That’s $1500 less you have to pay back. Plus, it’s fun. We get to use power tools, and we’re cutting stuff and drilling and hammering. It’s not the kind of stuff they do every day, so it’s fun to come in and have workshop time. If they didn’t place [at regionals], they still had a good time, and it’s a fun event.”