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STEM students present at petroleum conference

Pictured are, front row from left: Luis Rodriguez, Crystal Deng, Jesse Price and Raeef Rahman. Second row: Sadiyo Hasan, Austin Hosie, Quinton Vonesh and Austin Bowles. Back row: Nastesho Ulow, Emily Martin, Kyle Schmitz, Sydni Soine, Sofie Hansen, Jake Svenby, Arianna Sjoblom and Kris Lorenz. Submitted photo

Cheney Middle School science teacher Candida Braun took 16 STEM students to the Bismarck Civic Center on Wednesday to present at the annual Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

The students were able to exchange knowledge with executives in the oil industry, as well as present their own solutions to problems that exist within the industry.

“I knew before we started this project that the oil industry is a big part of North Dakota’s economy, but once you look at finer details, you realize how important it really is for the entire state,” said STEM student Quinton Vonesh, whose team worked on a strategy to desalinate well water in the oil region. “If things change out there, the whole state is going to be different.”

The students – who worked in teams of four – began working on specific, real-world problems that affect the western half of the state roughly two months ago.

Along with water desalination – a serious concern in the area, as well water can be up to seven times saltier than seawater – student teams also worked on carbon dioxide sequestration (which Braun described as a “greener” way to extract oil), flaring reduction and a method of profit sharing to set aside some oil revenue to give back to the communities that surround the wells.

“There are still a lot of problems in the area, like crime and prices going up,” student Emily Martin said. “This is bringing a lot of money to North Dakota, and we need to spend it in an efficient way.”

Their projects garnered them compliments from Marathon Oil CEO Lee Tillman and several legislators and state leaders.

The STEM program provides students with a problem that exists in the world today, and then challenges them to find solutions to that problem. With the social and financial impact the oil region has had on North Dakota, Braun saw this project as a no-brainer.

“One of our goals with the STEM program is to have the kids work on something that is real-world and authentic,” Braun said. “(North Dakota) is literally making history right now, and the people out east are somewhat disconnected from what it all means. The intent of the program is to improve the quality of life for all, and the situation out west will affect all of us.”

In its fifth year in the district, the STEM program has continued to grow and challenge area students to work together.

“There is nothing saying you won’t be a part of a team in the workforce,” Vonesh said. “This program helps so much with life, and it teaches us to be better students.”