Christopher Columbus Awards


Michele King
(303) 450-3985 ext. 1094 Email:
Stephanie Hallman
Christopher Columbus Awards

Project Developed by Students in Pinnacle Charter School, Colorado, Wins Gold Medals in National Science/Community Service Competition Held at Walt Disney World®

Students develop a biofuel that will ease school bus transportation costs for their local school

AUBURN, N.Y. — June 14, 2013 — A team of four middle school students from Federal Heights, Colorado, tackled the challenge of reducing the bus transportation costs for their school.

Students Thomas and Tiffany Nguyen, Salvador Barron-Berumen and Ricardo Damian and their coach Michele King were chosen as Gold Medal winners in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide competition that challenges middle school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities, with each team member receiving a $2,000 scholarship.

The River Rangers Team Photo
Left to right: Thomas Nguyen, Tiffany Nguyen, Salvador Barron-Berumen, Ricardo Damian and Coach Michele King.

In 2011, government institutions began making financial cuts to the education budget affecting hundreds of thousands of school districts in CO. The “trickle-down effect” led to additional transportation costs to many families within the Pinnacle Charter School area. The K-12 public school serves over 2,000 low-income, at risk, and under represented Hispanic population. Nearly half of the students use the 15 school buses that pick up students within a 20-mile radius of the school.

As part of a STEM Afternoon Club, the team decided developing a biodiesel fuel that could top-off school buses would help with bus transportation costs. They estimate their biofuel could save the school around $16,000 annually, reducing or even eliminating the costs passed on to the families.

The team states, "Biodiesel is a fuel made from plant or animal oils. It is cleaner burning than regular petroleum gasoline, and tends to 'clean the gunk from petro diesel' out of engines." The team decided to use "new" vegetable oil for their project. The team plans to create a "large quantity" curriculum for the high school chemistry class. The students will be required to produce nearly 100 gallons of biodiesel fuel per week. The biodiesel fuel will reduce the costs for operating the 15 school buses and savings will go toward educational purposes and resources.

Team Wins Trip to National Championship Week in Florida

The team and coach won an all-expense-paid trip to 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 the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios.® 

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, technology, engineering and math. The program is now in its 17th year and has attracted more than 19,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across America. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( and is endorsed by the Association for Middle Level Education and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Past winners have included a team from San Diego, California, that secured a provisional patent for a specialized seat cushion design that uses sensory feedback to train people to maintain a healthy posture while sitting at a computer, and a team from Gahanna, Ohio, that designed a grocery store conveyor belt that constantly sanitizes.

Countrywide Participation

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. The Christopher Columbus Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students.

About the Sponsor

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent federal government agency created by congress in 1992 to encourage and support discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. Please visit its website at

For more information, call 800-291-6020 or visit

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