Banneker Students Finish Second in NASA Competition

Contest Embroiled in Controversy

Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff of "S3 Trio," finalists in the national NASA competition (Courtesy of In3)
Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff of "S3 Trio," finalists in the national NASA competition (Courtesy of In3)

After weeks of waiting for NASA to release the results of a youth competition, the national space agency has announced that the girls from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in D.C. have come in at second place.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, who took part in the competition through D.C.’s recently launched Inclusive Innovation Incubator (In3) project, were the runners-up in the high school category of NASA’s Glog OPSPARC Challenge with their submission from H2NO to H2O. Their idea takes NASA technology designed for water purification and incorporates it into school water systems to remove impurities.

Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff of "S3 Trio," finalists in the national NASA competition (Courtesy of In3)
Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff of “S3 Trio,” finalists in the national NASA competition (Courtesy of In3)

The eight national finalists for the youth competition were announced in April. The Banneker girls, who calls themselves “S3 Trio,” was the only all-female, all-Black team among the finalists.

But their achievement was not without controversy. Once public voting was opened, the NASA website was bombarded with racist comments against the girls after it was hacked by 4Chan, a well-known hacking group that uses negative language and tampering to assault web activity.

Nevertheless, the final decision on which team would be the winner was based on NASA’s scientific rubric. The winning team, from Cornando High School in Henderson, Nevada, won a $4,000 stipend to visit NASA Goddard for a workshop and awards ceremony in their honor.

For its part, In3 says it respects the process and the outcome. The incubator hopes that participation of the Banneker team in the challenge has sparked interest for other non-traditional groups to enter future challenges.

The Banneker team and the In3 staff see a bright side from the results.

“We are elated that the In3 Team, India, Bria & Mikayla placed second in the NASA OPSPARC challenge,” said Aaron Saunders, CEO of In3. “As first-time participants, this is an amazing accomplishment. We salute NASA for their outreach to students interested in STEM education.”

When the hacking incident was uncovered, the work of S3 Trio received national and local attention. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would give the Banneker team $4,000 to continue work on their project. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to support funding a college education for the three 11th-graders.

So far, the campaign has raised nearly $25,000 of its $30,000 goal, with renowned television executive Shonda Rhimes donating $14,500.

Saunders said the team of Bria, India and Mikayla shows what In3 can do.

“Their accomplishments are the result of access, support and innovation to the community,” he said. “India, Bria and Mikayla are always winners in my eyes. Their future is written in CODE!”

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2 Comments

  1. 4chan is like the Sith that brings back balance to the Force.

    The attacks didn’t start until after they found the online campaign to vote in a team based on their race and gender, rather than the merits of their work.

    When you attribute these events purely to racism you miss very profound reasons for why the 4chan ecosphere is so virulent.

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