$3,000 in STEAM Grants Awarded to Three Area School Districts


Three school districts in the Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative (CWEC) service area each received $1,000 in STEAM grants to be used for projects and initiatives related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

The STEAM grants were introduced by CWEC in the second half of 2022 because the co-op values education and training and understands that classrooms may have limited funding to pursue the projects needed to educate students in local communities.

School districts that received the initial grants are as follows.


The Bowler School District received two STEAM grants, for a total of $1,000.

Amy Firnstahl (back row, far right), a teacher at Bowler Elementary School, with her first-grade class after receiving STEAM grant funds of $448.

Morning Tubs – The first-grade class taught by Amy Firnstahl at Bowler Elementary School received $448.16 to purchase materials needed to build STEAM Morning Tubs. According to Firnstahl, the tubs will provide her first-grade students the opportunity to explore, while practicing STEAM principles.

“It’s giving students an opportunity to explore and create with different materials, so building things, creating and using their imagination,” Firnstahl said. “Just giving them something extra to do besides an ordinary morning worksheet.”

Firnstahl added that receiving the STEAM grant was important for the project to move forward.

“With technology today, a lot of times imagination falls to the wayside, so using their imagination, their building skills, teamwork, it will have a lot of skills built into it,” she said.

The morning tubs would be introduced slowly to the students, Firnstahl said.

“Maybe by March we can have all of them out and they can independently grab what they like,” Firnstahl added.

Bowler High School students Braydon Pukall, Tristan Thiex, Brady Strassburg, and Beau Brunner, who participate in Challenge USA, along with their advisor Timothy Ploeger, with a chassis they built for the Super-Mileage Vehicle competitions they compete in.

Super-Mileage Vehicle – The district also received $551.84 for a super-mileage vehicle project. The project is a student activity that provides various educational venues in and outside the classroom, said Timothy Ploeger, project supervisor, and Tech. Ed. teacher at Bowler High School. The project has students designing, fabricating, and testing a small one-person vehicle with a focus on high mileage during various challenge events around Wisconsin.

The challenge events are part of Challenge USA, which began in the early 2000s. Ploeger estimated that 25–30 schools currently participate in the events, and that number is growing. Ploeger said the project is funded by soliciting sponsorships from area businesses, so the STEAM grant is appreciated.

“It will really help us out a lot. We can maybe get some new engines or batteries that need to be replaced, so that will go a long ways towards that,” Ploeger said.

There are currently 18 students involved in the project this year. They are building four vehicles.

“We started as a club back when we first started it,” Ploeger said. “It was an after-school thing. Some of those nights we’d be here pretty close to midnight. Now it’s a class we’re trying to develop as we go. We design, we do the engineer’s design which is the process where we develop a prototype and build a car out of PVC so we can see any errors before we get to metal.”

Ploeger said the most useful skill students will learn from the project is problem-solving.

“No matter what career a person goes into they will have to problem-solve,” Ploeger said. “In the course of this project, there will be loads of problem-solving and with that the frustration of things not working out as planned. The students will learn to plan, learn from their mistakes, and make improvements to the vehicle. After the last event, students will learn to reflect and determine what went well and where improvements could be made.”


Tigerton High School Science teacher Chad Pritzl, high school student Loghan Wanta, Tech. Ed. teacher Tim Schmidt, and Tigerton High School/Middle School Principal Nate Johnson with the exercise bike that will be used to build an energy bike for students to learn about electricity.

The Tigerton School District received $1,000 for the construction of an energy bike. The energy bike, which will consist of a pedal bike to power a generator, will provide students in the district a concrete example of how electricity is produced.

Chad Pritzl, high school science teacher at Tigerton High School who is also overseeing the energy bike project, said he originally got the idea for the energy bike while he worked for a different school district.

“We brought it to school as a demonstration and I thought it was a really neat experience for the students to see the work required to produce electricity,” Pritzl said. “That connection is lost I think. And this really brings it home.”

To complete the project, Pritzl said a variety of things will need to be purchased, such as a generator, so the grant will help pay for those costs.

In addition to learning about how electricity is generated, Pritzl said students will also learn about energy efficiency and energy storage in batteries.

Pritzl said he will use his science background and team with Tim Schmidt, who teaches Tech. Ed. at Tigerton High School, to complete the project with students.

“Hopefully we can have a few students lead with the project and we’ll build it right in the classroom,” Pritzl said.

Pritzl added that he believes the project will engage some of the students who are reluctant learners in the learning process, especially during the design and fabrication process. It will also provide more advanced learners an opportunity to explore electrical engineering.


Members of the student Skills USA group at Wittenberg/Birnamwood High School, Kalene Rasmussen, Sabine Yaeger, Chekotey Horachek, Dustin Yaeger, and Marli Novy, with group advisor Caleb McPhail, accept STEAM grant funds from Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative.

The Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District received $1,000 for an Urban Search and Rescue Robot that will be used by students in Skills USA competitions that are held throughout the state of Wisconsin. District competitions are held at high schools, while regional competitions are held at universities or technical colleges. From state competitions, there is an opportunity to qualify for Nationals.

Caleb McPhail, Technology Education and Woodshop teacher at Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School who oversees the students participating in Skills USA, said the robot used in competitions throughout the state will be operated by a student who must perform specific tasks with the robot that are already pre-established.

“There’s a course you have to go through, and in this course, you have two mailboxes,” said Marli Novy, a student who will be operating the robot in competitions. “In some of the mailboxes there is going to be a cube you pick up with the claw and then put it back in a bucket outside of the course. There’s two or three of them. Those have to go inside a house that is built and also go up and down some ramps in a certain amount of time. And there is also a written test to demonstrate your knowledge of different robotic laws and how everything is built.”

When driving the robot in competitions, Novy said she will need to drive it without looking at the robot. An iPhone is mounted on the robot, and the robot must be maneuvered by the view provided by the iPhone.

McPhail said this year is the first year the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District has competed in the robotic challenge.

“Marli (Novy) saw it last year when we were doing other competitions and she really wanted to get into that,” McPhail said.

Novy, a sophomore, said she is interested in engineering.

“This looked like a good opportunity to learn more and be able to create something that actually creates something that’s used,” Novy said. “And it’s something that should help me with whatever I decide to do.”

McPhail said all the work done associated with Skills USA events is done during the students’ free time, which includes time after school.

“All these different competitions, the things they prep for, we don’t have time throughout the day, our normal day periods for them to come in,” he said.

McPhail added that primarily two to three students helped build the robot for competition.

“The nice thing about this is we can disassemble it at the end of the year,” McPhail said. “It packages all back up and we can start from scratch the following year. So, we can reuse it over multiple years with different students having to go through and basically redesign it.”