Back row left to right:  Ms. Calvetta Leek, FOCUS teacher, Jamus Cable, Khari Spaulding, Mya Wilson, Dillon Dixon, Trinity Johnson, Amaris Dyke, Rhiamya Jones, Micah Rainey, Mr. Scott Bounds, Annalise Long, Tonanci Aguilera, Jordan Sanders, Mariah Hayes, and Dr. Vicki Adams.  Front row left to right: Julee Koncak, Burns & McDonnell Foundation, Devon Jones, Gabi McBride, Zak Davis, Vince Cunigan, Architectural Designer, Sebastian Williams, and George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station. Photo by Christina McDonough-Hunt

Grandview Students’ Amazing Brain Exhibit opens at Union Station

By Christina McDonough-Hunt

Fireworks flew, music boomed and cheers filled the air at Union Station on March 7 as 17 students from the Grandview C-4 School District FOCUS program unveiled their $1 million award-winning exhibit: The Amazing Brain. This is the 6th exhibit for the Battle of the Brains competition and is Science City’s largest indoor exhibit.

“This is incredible!” said Micah Horton, director of the Grandview High School Men’s Choir, as he looked around the exhibit in amazement. “Our kids did this!”

Amaris Dyke accepting the Endurance Test challenge on display at The Amazing Brain
exhibit. Photo by Christina McDonough-Hunt


Out of hundreds of submissions, one stood out. And in November 2017, the idea submitted by the Grandview C-4 FOCUS students was announced as the winner of the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains competition, an event designed to inspire the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals.  

“Students compete to transform their idea into a $1 million permanent exhibit at Science City,” said Ray Kowalik, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell. “We want to keep kids excited about STEM, and we want a place for children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

The students worked as a team to come up with their idea. “We were looking at a model of a brain and one of the students said, ‘What if we have the eyes of the brain looking out over Science City?’ and from that everything else filled in,” said Vicki Adams, Grandview C-4 FOCUS teacher.

The students had the opportunity to be involved in the design process from the beginning.  

“We took all their ideas and used them as inspiration,” said Kristi Widmar, corporate communications manager, Burns & McDonnell, who explained that the initial plan for a two-story exhibit was tweaked to fit into the available space.

“These are things they have to think about as future engineers or architects, so we have them meet regularly with professionals,” she said. “We take them to the manufacturers to go through everything. They even understand why we do certain branding that might attract kids. We just don’t let them see [the final product] until the very end.”  

“We got to try some of the games at the fabricators and that was fun. We also wanted to put “Facts” or “Did you Knows” so kids could get more information explained,” said Rhimaya Jones, FOCUS student.  

So, what is it like to see your hard work come to fruition? “The most amazing thing is seeing the exhibit and seeing people enjoy this and having fun because we worked really hard on this,” said Mya Wilson, another FOCUS student.  

Pictured left to right:  Gabi McBride, Dr. Vicki Adams, and Mya Wilson

In addition to the recognition and the building of their exhibit, each grand prize team earned $50,000. Adams called the experience a game-changer for the district. “Thanks to our grant, we built a new learning lab that is equipped with everything from MacBooks and drones to a 3D printer and ozobot robots. We tie everything to STEM—and the students love it!”

The 2,800-square-foot Amazing Brain exhibit features 14 unique pieces designed to explore the body’s command center, the brain. These include: Ready Set Recall, Balance Me, The Nose Knows, MindBall (challenges your ability to relax), Lie Detector and more.  

“Out of nearly 100,000 square feet of hands-on, interactive exhibits in Science City, a full 50 percent of that space was born in the imaginations of Kansas City kids, thanks to the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains competition,” said George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station. “Every day we have visitors from different school districts, states—even countries. They are all discovering STEM in a way that is fun and memorable.”

The Battle of the Brains competition has seen entries from nearly 20,000 students in 55 school districts since conception. The competition takes place every two years and will launch its next competition this fall.  

But for now, the students of Grandview C-4 FOCUS (a gifted education program) are celebrating a dream turned into a reality.  

“I’m very proud of them,” said Adams. “I’m speechless. I just want them to cherish this moment forever and ever and be all that they know how to be.”

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