Commonwealth Connections Academy Wins Second Place at National Real World Design Challenge

group photo of robotics teen team

HARRISBURG, PA (April 23, 2013) – Commonwealth Connections Academy’s state-winning Real World Design Challenge (RWDC) team placed second in the country at the 2013 National RWDC engineering competition on April 20, topping 26 teams from other states and territories. 

CCA was the sole cyber charter school to qualify and participate in this year’s National Competition, and is also the only cyber school to place within the top three nationally since the RWDC began five years ago.

The Real World Design Challenge (RWDC) is an annual competition that provides high school students the unique opportunity to work on real world engineering challenges in a team environment. Each year, student teams are asked to address a challenge that confronts our nation's leading industries.

This year’s competition challenged the students to design an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with engineering software and plan a mission to rescue a child lost in the Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. The teams were instructed to find the child in the least amount of time while also minimizing the total cost. 

 “This team’s dedication and motivation to excel continues to amaze me every year,” said the team’s coach and CCA science teacher Ann Camp. “Once the students put their mind to the challenge, no amount of work or hours of research will deter them. To see high school students actually designing, planning to market and utilize an unmanned aircraft is just incredible.” 

The CCA Innovators—Athena Kao, Courtney Thurston, Devin Slaugenhaupt, Rick Ciora, Jacob Antionio Whipkey, Ian Cavanaugh and Alexis Amelotte-Myers —are freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors from all areas of Pennsylvania. As students from a cyber school, the team worked together over long distances. They communicated mostly online through LiveLesson® technology, which the team used as a virtual meeting room. As students from a cyber school, the team worked together over long distances.

After the state competitions were completed in February, the Challenge officials modified the problem to create a more difficult mission for the teams, including adding trees into the search area. CCA’s team worked long hours for the next two months adjusting and refining their design and flight plan. The team’s final project included a 78-page project notebook, design and fuel plans and other details for the judges.

“It had been my dream for an entire year to make the National finals again and contend for the championship title,” said Courtney Thurston, a CCA sophomore from Mechanicsburg, PA.  “I'm amazed every year by what other teams are able to accomplish, and I'm extremely proud of our own performance. There's nothing in the world as fulfilling as working incredibly hard for something and meeting that goal. Second in the nation is an incredible accomplishment.”

After being chosen as one of the top 3 finalists at a ceremony late Saturday afternoon, CCA’s team then presented a second time before a blue ribbon judge’s panel consisting of representatives from government, industry and higher education.

“The CCA community and I are very proud of the Innovators and their coach Ann Camp for working so hard and achieving their goals again this year,” said CCA CEO Dr. Maurice Flurie. “STEM-related challenges like the RWDC are one of the best ways to make science and engineering exciting and real for high school students. These opportunities help to nurture our students’ existing talents to prepare them for much-needed careers as scientists, engineers and doctors.”

While the team was excited to take second place, many of the team members are already eager to participate again next year for the National title.  Graduating senior captain Athena Kao of Phoenixville, PA gave advice for next year’s team: “Be persistent, determined and prepare for hard work!”

About Commonwealth Connections Academy
Founded in 2003, Commonwealth Connections Academy combines the expertise and accountability of public education and state certified teachers, with strong parental involvement and the flexibility of technology-enhanced learning.  Authorized under state law by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, CCA is also accredited by the Middle States Association – one of six regional accrediting organizations for higher education institutions.  Since CCA is a Pennsylvania public school, there are no costs for tuition, fees or supplies.  CCA was named Educator of the Year at the 2011 Pennsylvania Technology Awards.  Open enrollment for grades K-12 is going on now.  For more information on our teaching centers, unique mobile classroom or student programs please visit