Students use STEM skills to solve real-world problems at 2022 ocMaker Challenge

Irvine High School students

A team from Irvine High School won the Emerging Entrepreneurs Award at the 2022 ocMaker Challenge for their project, “Overhead,” which uses an artificial muscle to help individuals with upper-body disabilities. The special award was introduced this year by Chapman University’s Ralph W. Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics, which has been a longtime ocMaker Challenge partner.

More than 650 enterprising students showcased their creativity, ingenuity and ability to tackle real-world problems at this year’s ocMaker Challenge, which featured over 160 STEM-infused projects.

Organized by OCDE’s Career Education and STEM teams, the ocMaker Challenge annually calls for elementary, middle and high school students to design and build — or significantly repurpose — a product that solves a problem, need or want.

Award ceremony graphic

Participating teams start as early as October, collaborating, designing and building prototypes that range from simple to highly complex. Submissions are later judged and awarded by panels of industry professionals.

For the second straight year, the contest was held online in 2022, but as OCDE College and Career Readiness Coordinator Margaret Llamas notes, that didn’t stop the entries from coming in. 

“The ocMaker Challenge provided students with an opportunity to work collaboratively through a hands-on project after adjusting to life back in the classroom,” Llamas said. “Through solving their own problems, students gain the confidence and essential career skills to invent their own future.”

Student projects and videos remain on display for the public on the ocMaker Challenge website.

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Chapman University introduces Emerging Entrepreneurs Award

The Chapman University Ralph W. Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics, which has been a longtime ocMaker Challenge partner, introduced a special award at this year’s event to support future entrepreneurs.

The inaugural Emerging Entrepreneurs Award, which included a $500 cash prize, went to a team of students from Irvine High School for their project, “Overhead,” which employs an artificial muscle to help individuals with upper-body disabilities.

The Irvine High squad was one of nine high school teams from throughout Orange County that took part in a professional “product pitch,” in which they explained how they would bring their ideas to market with an overview of their problem statements, competitive landscapes, market validation, financial returns and actions needed. Submissions were judged by Chapman professors and students from the university’s entrepreneurship program. 

“The thing that really amazed us most was your perseverance and your love for really establishing innovation that’s really directed at human good, sustainability and the environment,” Mario Leone, a Chapman professor and the center’s director, told students.

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This year’s top ocMaker Challenge submissions were announced during a virtual ceremony that was held on Thursday, May 19. Teams were awarded based on their division levels, and a handful of special awards were also presented, including Most Innovative, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Focused Award, Tooling and Fabrication, and Chapman University’s Emerging Entrepreneurs Award.

Award-winning inventions at this year’s event included “The Sunbrella: A Step Towards Infinite Shade”; wearable technology known as “The Anger Outburst Manager,” which is designed to thwart road rage; and “No Trash Left Behind,” a solution to littering on school campuses. 

“We have some great minds in our youth,” said one industry professional, “and I’m excited for what they all dream up for their bright futures.” 

Cash prizes were provided by sponsors including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County, EXP The Opportunity Engine, Orange County Business Council, Orange County United Way, and Vital Link of Orange County. 

A recording of the awards ceremony and a full list of winners can be found at

Graphic with award winners

Graphic with special award winners