CCA students prepare to represent Pennsylvania in national STEM competition

Challenge focuses on design and implementation of unmanned aerial systems


After winning this year’s state competition, six students from Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) are preparing to represent Pennsylvania in the national Real World Design Challenge (RWDC) competition in Washington, D.C., on April 20-21. This year’s RWDC focuses on designing and implementing unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to support precision agriculture in the production of corn.

The issue is real. By 2050, there will be an estimated additional 2 billion people on Earth, which will create the need to produce 70 percent more food, according to Real World Design Challenge. Advances in technology such as UAS have greatly helped the modern farmer to monitor a field of crops precisely and to apply water, fertilizer and pesticides in a manner that saves money and time, while increasing crop yield.  

CCA, a public cyber charter school, was one of 10 Pennsylvania schools that participated in the state competition to create a solution that supports a modern approach to agriculture. 

“The Real World Design Challenge is a competition with so many facets,” said Daniel Friess, CCA math tutor and team adviser. “I’ve been so impressed by the students’ desire and perseverance in learning so many tools, formulae and principles across so many fields.” 

This is the eighth consecutive year that students from CCA have won the state competition and advanced to the national event. CCA has participated in the competition since it started in 2008 and has finished second nationally twice, including last year.

"What these students are capable of is remarkable,” Friess said. "They are virtual learners who designed this entire plan by collaborating online. They are modern-day students creating solutions for modern-day problems."

This year’s team includes the following students from across Pennsylvania: 

  • Collegeville - Ashraya Ananthanarayanan (12th grade, team lead)
  • Hyndman - Joseph Patterson (12th grade)
  • Harrisburg - Joshua Cincotta (10th grade)
  • Camp Hill - Timothy Cribbs (10th grade)
  • Steelton - Kenya Mitchell (10th grade)
  • Lebanon - Alisher Aminov (9th grade)

“It has been a real honor and privilege to be the team lead for this year’s RWDC Challenge,” Ananthanarayanan said. “My teammates and I have worked diligently around the clock to bring fresh thinking to this highly-complex challenge.”

Through their involvement, the students were introduced to various careers that have applied to the competition: design, engineering, communications, business and more. The competition has expanded the students’ knowledge of electronics, aviation physics, Federal Aviation Administration regulations and agriculture.

“We had to solve a real-world problem, and we were determined to deliver the most expansive group of ideas to complete that task,” Ananthanarayanan said. “I am grateful that, as high school students, we have the opportunity to utilize our STEM skills for the greater good and share them on a national stage.”  

At the RWDC national competition, 28 teams, representing different states and China, will present their challenge solutions to a panel of judges. More than 22,000 students from across the U.S. have participated in the RWDC since it began in 2008. For more information about RWDC, visit

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Tagged with STEM, careers, commonwealth charter academy, cca