Contact: Linda Topoleski, 412-281-2345
Or: West Branch Middle School
Teacher Hector Ibarra, Ph.D., 319-643-5324x162


West Branch, IA, Middle School Students Win Top Award:
The $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant In
National Science/Community Service Competition
Held at Walt Disney World

Students Devised Plan for Hazardous Waste Recycling Center and
Public Education Surrounding Disposal of Used Oil Filters

AUBURN, NY—June 21, 2007—Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won four students from West Branch Middle School in West Branch, IA, the top prize in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.  

Sixth-graders Cody Brandt, Garett Lynch, Konnor Myrvik and Conor Paulsen, and their coach, science teacher Hector Ibarra, Ph.D., made it to the semifinals earlier this month, and now are winners of the grand prize—the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant.

Team Photo

$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant Award Winners,
"Unrecognized Hazard: Used Oil Filters" Team — West Branch, IA.

Left to right: Konor Myrvik, Connor Paulsen, Cody Brandt, Garret Lynch and Coach Hector Ibarra.

Every year, more than 6.6 million used oil filters are disposed of in landfills in Iowa, leaching over 400,000 gallons of oil into the land, and eventually nearby streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The spent oil contains hazardous materials such as arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium and halogens.

The students found that current law in Iowa prohibits used oil from being disposed of in landfills, but allows used oil filters. They surveyed area students and residents and found low awareness of the extent of the problem or its dangers, and interviewed public officials and area service stations to develop a way to reduce the environmental impact of the filters.

Now that they've won the grant, they plan to establish a hazardous waste recycling center at a local landfill, and to develop a public outreach program to educate area residents about proper disposal. They also hope to meet with legislators to change current laws.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education selected this idea as one of the top eight entries in the U.S. Over 1,200 students and coaches participated nationwide.

Team Wins a Trip to Walt Disney World®

The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards' National Championship Week, and participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of Epcot® and the Magic Kingdom.®

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology. The program is now in its tenth year and has attracted nearly 14,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( with support from the National Science Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association. Past winners have included: a group of students from IS 164 in the Washington Heights section of New York who won a special Judges' Award for their portable, inflatable backpack seat which would enable students of all sizes to see the blackboard; a group of Native American girls who built a study hall out of straw on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana; and a group of students from Pennsylvania who developed a video/motion sensor device for school buses that deters motorists from trying to pass illegally.

Strong Participation from Girls, Minorities

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and more than a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students to enter.

About the Sponsor

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent Federal government agency created by Congress in 1992 to encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. The Foundation has established Frontiers of Discovery—Work in Progress and Discover the Future, programs that recognize "cutting edge" innovations, innovative ideas of America's youth, and honor teachers. These programs include the Homeland Security Award, Christopher Columbus Awards, National Gallery for America's Young Inventors and the $10,000 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award.

For more information on the Christopher Columbus Awards, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit