Innovative students get their heads in the game

Grove City College’s Department of Physics and the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I) are teaming up to present the SAFR Challenge, a competition that tests students’ scientific and marketing skills.

The SAFR (Strain And Force Reduction) Challenge tasks teams of students with developing and building a headband designed to reduce the prevalence of concussions in collegiate soccer players. There are two tiers to the competition, one for Grove City College students and another for area high schoolers, and cash prizes for both.

The theoretical challenge addresses a real-world problem. Concussions are common in many sports, but soccer stands out because players, in addition to being subject to injuries from falling, routinely use their heads to control and move the ball.

The contest originated in Physics Professor Shane Brower’s classroom, where the challenge problem is an exercise that he uses each year to teach his Fundamentals of the Universe students, many of whom are not science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors, about the process of scientific investigation.

“They learn how to formulate hypotheses, gather and analyze data, and draw conclusions,” Brower said. “This lab gives them an opportunity to do so in a more applied manner, and to see how they can utilize their non-STEM skill sets to tackle a STEM-related problem.”

“Solving big problems like concussion remediation, sustainable energy, space travel, etc., requires multi-disciplinary groups of people collaboratively using their diverse skillsets, and I want my students to know that they have a seat at the table in these efforts. I hope this experiment gives them the confidence to pursue other exciting opportunities that they wouldn’t have considered prior to taking the class,” he said.

Brower developed the first version of this lab with seniors Caleb Barber and Nathan Fuguet when they were freshmen physics majors working on a capstone project.

For the past few years, he has been running a version of the exercise for cyber and homeschool students in cooperation with PA Cyber – an online public charter school. It provides those students with access to equipment and experiences that are not normally available to students in the homeschool and online community.

Last week, Brower led a group of junior and high school students through the classroom assignment in a laboratory in Rockwell Hall. The teens repeatedly dropped a dummy’s head mounted on a pole onto a force plate on the floor to determine the impact of a fall to the ground, how much various kinds of padding reduce that impact, and what material might work best to create a headband that works for soccer players.

The top teams culled from Brower’s students and the junior and senior high school exercises will compete in the SAFR Challenge Finals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 in Sticht Lecture Hall in the Staley Hall of Arts and Letters on campus. The competition is open to the public and will be livestreamed on E+I’s website

Winners will be determined using a special rubric that weighs each headband’s appearance, level of comfort, practicality, and the quality of the group’s presentation. The college-level competition will be judged by members of the Grove City College Women’s Soccer team while junior high and high school student teams will participate in a version of the competition judged by past Grove City College student winners and local resident Faith Henriquez, a concussion care advocate and author.

Teaming up with E+I for the SAFR competition was natural, Brower said. “The folks in E+I have done an outstanding job inspiring students through their various student competitions, such as the Elevator Pitch and the Wolverine Venture Battle,” he said. “In fact, the Elevator Pitch was the inspiration for my initial version of this lab. I wanted to connect with E+I because I knew their experience and expertise would elevate the excitement and impact of the lab.”

“People often assume that the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation is just for students who want to start a business. We actually serve all majors, and the skillsets that students build in our programs position them to succeed in life, no matter where God calls them,” E+I Executive Director Yvonne J. English ’97 said.

“Our collaboration with Dr. Brower and the Physics Department for the SAFR Challenge is the perfect example of how entrepreneurship and innovation can look in a wider context that can be applied to a variety of majors and disciplines. It’s an extra bonus that we’re able to involve our own GCC women’s soccer team in the fun,” she said.

Erin Butler, who teaches physics at PA Cyber, said the lab time is very valuable for her students. “Cyber school relies on virtual labs and lab kits that are mailed home for students to do hands-on labs, but nothing can really replace being in a lab setting with other peers working on the same lab,” Butler, a 2002 Grove City College alumnus, said.

“The students that come are treated to a great experience. Professor Brower makes an inviting, fun, challenging lab that really enticed students to not think of it as just science but science with a purpose.  In addition, they get personal direction on lab technique and are introduced to lab equipment that is beyond many high school labs, let alone labs you can do at home,” she said.

For more about Physics at Grove City College, visit

For more about the Center for E+I and to watch the livestream, visit

Innovative students get their heads in the game

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