DCP Rocketship Samsung STEM

Rocketship Alumni win National Samsung Solve STEM Competition

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by Maya Diaz & Pedro Castillo
Students, Downtown College Prep Alum Rock High School

Rocketeers learn how to solve problems and blast beyond the status quo long after they graduate. As our teachers work tirelessly to prepare students for lifelong success, stories like Maya Diaz’s and Pedro Castillo’s fill us with pride.

Graduates of Mateo Sheedy Elementary and current Downtown College Prep Alum Rock High School students, Maya and Pedro have already gained national recognition for solving problems. Faced with the worst drought in California history and a county-mandated 20 percent reduction in water consumption, Maya and Pedro helped their school’s engineering club design a gray water system and rain water storage system to help their community save water.

Their project sailed through five phases of competition in the nationwide Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, beating out thousands of other STEM projects to win $150,000 in technology for their school. Here, the students recap their once-in-a-lifetime experience in their own words and explain how Rocketship helped them on their journey.

Maya, 10th grade:

Maya stands outside City Hall with a special commendation from the San Jose City Council.

In October, the engineering teacher at our school started the first ever engineering club at DCP. I decided to join the engineering club because I enjoyed the classes and wanted to see how I could use what we were learning and utilize it outside of class.

When I first joined, I didn’t know what we were going to do or what would come out of it until Mr. Ruelas had us join the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow Competition, a nationwide competition that challenged students to come up with a solution to a problem in their community. Under his leadership, we came up with an affordable gray water system that would enable those who install it to save up to 37 percent of their average fresh water use. This was in response to the extreme drought and the changes we’ve all witnessed in our communities. I think I speak for the majority of our engineering team that none of us had ever done anything like this before, and none of us had experience in such a large scale competition, so when we made it past the first round of the competition we were all surprised and excited. We continued to work on our project, meeting up on the weekends and on our breaks, not even knowing if our hard work would even pay off, but it did. We continued to make our way through the stages of the competition and we continued to get more and more excited with each step. By the time we were admitted to being one of the 15 national finalists, we were all determined to win. We got the opportunity to go to New York and see the 14 other creative presentations. After seeing these presentations, we weren’t so sure about winning, but regardless we were all thankful for how far the competition had brought us already.

Finally, in one of our assemblies, they announced us as one of the 5 finalists out of the 15 who were picked nationally. I was so excited and surprised that as a group, we were able to accomplish such a big thing. Being in this club and competition has given us so many opportunities and opened so many doors for us that we would have never thought were possible. We went to New York and visited colleges that we’ve only heard about in school, and we went places I’ve only seen in the movies. This competition has really shown me that I can uplift my community using STEM, and potentially solve problems we face every day.

Rocketship QuotePedro, 9th grade:

Pedro smiles with his award from the City Council & Board of Supervisors.

Pedro attends a send-off ceremony at DCP before flying to New York for the fourth phase of competition.

After everything we have experienced, the windmilling punches of shock and awe that came with winning $150,000 in technology for our school, being able to visit New York and building an accessible gray water system, I can say these experiences changed our lives. Personally, this is accredited to being raised in an environment that nurtured our desire for education. Without the help of my education at Rocketship, and the wonderful teachers that supported me along the way, I would have not been able to arrive at where I am today. I thank Rocketship for pushing me to expand beyond the normal capabilities that would be called for in “average schools.” Also, this school has nurtured countless other futures where children have a fighting chance in receiving a quality education. I’ve noticed it along the countless street corners, where the chances of a better education are expanding as more Rocketship schools expand. It always brings me joy to know that we were a part of a great experiment that turned out to be amazing. I only ask for you to continue to fight for the continuation of closing the achievement gap.


Maya Diaz graduated from Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in 2010. She is currently a sophomore at Downtown College Prep Alum Rock. In two years, she hopes to be studying psychology at her dream college and help change her community for the better.

Pedro Castillo is currently a student at Downtown College Prep. He has a variety of hobbies, including poetry, writing short stories, chess, martial arts and learning guitar. He has a really high interest in learning psychology and sociology, including using the field of STEM to expand upon the knowledge already pioneered by both older and modern scientists. When he enters college and graduates with a master’s degree in psychology, he hopes to either become a clinical therapist helping people with their emotional baggage or become a professor.

One thought on “Rocketship Alumni win National Samsung Solve STEM Competition

  1. Pedro, I am so proud of your accomplishment! You are an outstanding scholar with an incredibly bright future ahead of you! Keep reaching for the stars. ~ Ms. Vargas

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