Sci-Arts Students Represent at JPL Challenge


“[The JPL Challenge] was a very insightful experience that allowed me to work hands on with power tools and construct creatively." -Cristian Bonilla, 11th Grade

On December 1st, 2017, Heart of Los Angeles was represented by two high school teams in this year’s Annual Invention Challenge hosted by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL- NASA). Both of HOLA’s teams competed in the finals at the La Cañada site. One of the teams stemmed from a new partnership between New Village Girls Academy (NVGA) and HOLA’s Scientific Arts department, and this Sisters of Science team, won third place at the Los Angeles Regional competition. This year was the first opportunity for HOLA to participate in the event, and we were the sole after-school program in the competition.

HOLA’s Sci Arts staff worked closely with the high school students in building their devices for the Invention Challenge. The partnership with NVGA, a local all-girls charter school, allowed HOLA’s Sci Arts team to provide science and engineering content in a daytime program setting, with NVGA’s students visiting and utilizing HOLA’s Critical Maker Space twice a week. The girls worked diligently in the space and were exposed to tools most had never used before. In addition, the team had ongoing support from inspiring, female volunteers in the STEAM industry and included volunteers from Google, Second Spectrum, and a local project manager.

HOLA’s second team, the HOLA Invention Team, was comprised of students from HOLA’s High School PAT program, as well as the Scientific Art’s STEAM programs. This team worked alongside Federico Tobon, our Sci Arts instructor, and met twice a week to work on their build. During the months-long process, both teams worked on designing, constructing, and testing multiple builds. What started with prototypes built out of LEGO led to large-scale devices made primarily of wood, nuts and bolts, and elastic bands. Initial builds for both teams ultimately failed, leaving the students to revisit their plans and start from scratch, but by competition time, both machines were succeeding most of the time.

“It was an exciting event. Everyone supported each other at the competition and it gave me confidence to participate.” -Kevin Ventura, 12th Grade

Beginning in August, JPL releases its Annual Invention Challenge to students and JPL employees. This year's 20th anniversary challenge was to create a device that would be able to shoot 10 wiffle balls into a bucket that is six meters away and two meters high, in a one minute time period. Teams were required to build a device using readily available materials and could only launch a ball without the use of a human trigger. The Challenge then culminated with three competition events; a Southern California regional, an Orange County regional, and a final competition at JPL headquarters in La Canada. The top 20 teams from both regional competitions would then move onto the finals. This year also saw four international teams hailing from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Turkey.

HOLA’s students were excited to learn more about the engineering world through this special opportunity. Congratulations again to the Sisters of Science and the Invention Team for your great work!

To learn more about Scientific Arts at HOLA, visit

December 11, 2017

Steve PinedaSci Arts, Education, JPL