Norwin students drive for success!

Norwin AP Statistics students shine at PennDOT


PennDOT employee

Norwin AP Statistics students attend the PennDOT Innovation Challenge

AP Statistics students competed at the PennDOT Innovation Challenge on Thursday Feb. 23.  The PennDOT Innovation Challenge is a competition hosted by PennDOT each year. The topic of the challenge changes from year-to-year, but generally centers around transportation and roads.

This year’s challenge was to come up with an idea that would help with semi truck parking. A common issue in Pennsylvania is that there aren’t enough parking spaces to serve all truck drivers, and they are often forced to park on ramps and the side of the highway. Thus, truck parking is a danger to drivers and damaging to infrastructure.  PennDOT sought the input of high school students to come up with innovative solutions and come up with a way to introduce more parking in an efficient and inexpensive way. 

Seniors Kate Botti, Sophia Alvarez, and Nicole Miller pose for a picture after presenting their project. (Elizabeth Long)

Mr. Thomas Harskowitch, a Norwin mathematics teacher, has his students compete in the competition every year. Each year he pushes his AP Statistics students to come up with unique solutions to the proposed problems. 

“The reason I assign the PennDot Innovation Challenge is two fold,” Harskowitch said. “One: Real life problem solving, which is one of the goals of the Mathematics Department here at Norwin. Two: Community awareness– to make students aware of what is going on in their state and what projects are being looked at by PennDOT.”

Seniors Gia Cartia and Josh Frick celebrate after presenting their project. (Elizabeth Long)

Forming groups of up to four students, the groups consult each other and brainstorm solutions. After the students come up with their ideas, they are required to write a description under 750 words that details their idea. This paper is submitted, and the students are considered for one of the five spots at the regional competition. 


This year, five of the six spots at the regional competition were awarded to Norwin groups. Nicholas Cormas (12), Caden Hoffman (12), and Gabe Conboy (12); Sophia Alvarez (12), Nicole Miller (12), and Kate Botti (12); Gia Cartia (12) and Josh Frick (12); Jacob Biehl (12) and Genevieve Wills (12); and Paige Tokay (11) and Elizabeth Long (12). 

While each group submitted a different idea for the competition, they each attribute their success to their unique and creative ideas. 

My advice would be to think outside the box. Anyone can come up with an idea that is like everyone else’s, but to come up with something entirely new is ten times more interesting. It makes you stand out.

— P. Tokay (11)

The day of the competition these students traveled to Uniontown, as the regional competition takes place at the Fayette County PennDOT office. When they arrived they were greeted by staff from multiple departments including engineering, maintenance, and administration. 

The regional competition includes a presentation of the students’ ideas in front of a panel of judges, made up of PennDOT employees. They are required to put together a slides presentation, and are able to bring any models or supporting materials they may need to fully explain their concept. 

Gabe Conboy (12) tries to avoid crashing a toy car while wearing intoxication simulation goggles. (Elizabeth Long)

As the presentations were scattered throughout the day, students were kept occupied by many different speakers and activities. They learned about the importance of car maintenance, the creation process of road salt, and even the dangers of impaired driving. They were given the opportunity to converse with professionals in these areas. The state trooper who educated them on the dangers of impaired driving even brought a toy car and intoxication-mirroring goggles for the students to see how drinking before getting behind the wheel disorients drivers. 

“My favorite part of the day at PennDOT was wearing the goggles that simulate being drunk and driving a small toy car,” Gia Cartia (12) said. 

After the students successfully presented their innovative solutions, they were given a tour of the various machines that the PennDOT. Students got the opportunity to sit inside of a snow plow and excavator. 

My favorite part of the day was looking at the salt truck and excavator machines they had.

— Jacob Biehl (12)

Students learn a lot of new skills from competing in the PennDOT Innovation Challenge. The most important part, however, is undoubtedly the presentation skills refined at the regional competition. 

“The most beneficial part of the district competition for the students is the presentation portion in front of a panel of project managers and engineers,” Harskowitch said. This allows the students to experience the brainstorming teamwork that occurs in most places of employment where you get to present your idea and then receive feedback and questions to enhance the overall value of the idea.”

AP Statistics students and PennDOT Innovation Challenge competitors listen to a presentation on snow plows. (Elizabeth Long)

Though the results have yet to come back on which of the six teams will be moving on to the state competition, Harskowitch is proud of the work and creative ideas his students have put into this project. 

“Our students did very well at the competition,” Harskowitch said. “Each team was able to clearly explain their innovative ideas and handled the questions of the panel of judges with insightful responses. The main thing that I heard from the judges was the amount of research and statistics the Norwin teams provided with their presentations, which provided the much needed support to justify their innovative ideas.”

As of March 8, the team moving onto the state finals in Harrisburg are Gabe Conboy, Nicholas Cormas, and Caden Hoffman.

Seniors Gabe Conboy, Nicholas Cormas, and Caden Hoffman pose for a group picture with the intoxication simulation goggles on. (Elizabeth Long)