Contact: Linda Topoleski, 412-281-2345
Or: Whiteface Junir High
Teacher Laura Wilbanks 806-287-1285


Wind Energy Project by Whiteface, Texas Students Wins Gold Medal in National Science/Community Service Competition Held at Walt Disney World®

Students Try to Sustain Family Farming Using Wind Energy to Reduce Fuel Costs

AUBURN, NY—June 21, 2007—Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won three students from Whiteface Elementary School in Whiteface, TX, a Gold Medal and a $2,000 Savings Bond in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.

Seventh-graders Jacob Friesen, Kassidy Gandy and Jake Johnson, and their coach, Laura Wilbanks, made it to the finals in April by developing a program for using wind turbines to generate electricity that can run water pumps for irrigation systems. They wanted to find a solution that could offset high fuel costs faced by cotton farmers in their community.

Team Photo

Gold Medal Columbus Foundation Community Grant Award Winners, "Energizers" Team — Whiteface, TX.
Left to right: Coach Lisa Johnson, Jacob Friesen, Jake Johnson and Kassidy Gandy.

Concerned about the plight of local cotton farmers struggling to keep pace with rising fuel prices, this group of students decided to get involved in a solution that would potentially benefit the entire community. They interviewed farmers, agriculture officials and other experts, and conducted Internet research about alternative fuel sources.

Working with researchers at Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX, they tested various wind patterns and speeds at ground level and higher elevations and concluded that wind turbines would be an ideal energy source in the Cochran County, TX region because of the wind's patterns and its virtually endless supply. The team estimates that just one turbine could supply enough energy to power several hundred homes and farms.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education judged 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 11th year and has attracted nearly 15,000 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