Vandegrift High School Destination Imagination (DI) Team 1 placed first in their category – the “Roll With It” engineering challenge – at the 2022 DI Global Competition in Kansas City at the end of May. Vandegrift HS DI Team 1 was one of six LISD teams to compete in the DI Global Finals. Their challenge entry featured engineering, storytelling, a submarine – and penguins. 

Team member Xavier Leffler said the team’s biggest accomplishments throughout this past school year included creating a car-sized submarine replica out of hand-painted wood and cardboard, along with a 3D tessellated dragon head. Through the process of working on their project, the team learned innovative processes of 3D modeling, construction and design. They showcased these skills at the DI regional and state tournaments, where their placements ultimately brought them to the global competition.

“This year’s Globals were especially cool because the past two years have been virtual or canceled due to the pandemic, so it was amazing to be back and interacting with other teams and cultures,” Xavier Leffler said. “I’m really fortunate to be in a district that supports and encourages the DI program, allowing me to get these experiences.”

DI is an international program that allows young people of all ages – kindergarten through university level – to be involved in creative problem-solving in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, fine arts and service learning. There are several categories of challenges teams can pick from each year, including science, improvisational theater and engineering challenges. The team then works on their selected challenge project throughout the school year.

Jacob Leffler, VHS DI Team 1 team manager and father of Xavier Leffler, has been managing DI teams for eight years. Team managers are not allowed to interfere with the students’ process. They play a supporting role – sometimes providing a work space, teaching students how to use tools, etc. – but they can’t suggest ideas or do anything to influence the project design. 

“The students come up with ideas you never would have come up with,” Jacob Leffler said. “They come up with things that blow your mind.”

Jacob Leffler said that during his first year as a DI team manager, the students spent a lot of time observing more experienced teams at competitions, in addition to working on their own projects.

“We had great conversations about, ‘what do you think they did that got them there?’” Jacob Leffler said. “They could really appreciate what some of the other teams were bringing.”

In the years since, VHS DI Team 1 has grown in terms of knowledge, skills and collaboration abilities, as well as by the addition of new members. Team member Sameeksha Jayaprakash said she is inspired and looking forward to choosing a challenge for the upcoming school year, even as she reflects on the recent experiences and success of the team.

“It was such a rewarding experience to meet teams from around the world and learn about their different cultures and their journeys through DI,” Jayaprakash said. “Being able to just walk around the enormous convention center, talking to those who share the same passion as me and seeing their wonderful innovations was the most educational and rewarding experience that I could ever have.”

The Cedar Park MS DI Team 1, Vandegrift DI Team 3, Cedar Park HS DI Team, Steiner-Bush DI Team and Vandegrift HS DI Team 2 also competed at the DI Global Finals in May.

Vandegrift HS DI Team 1
1st place in the Roll With It Challenge
Team members: Sameeksha Jayaprakash, Xavier Leffler, Adrian Rapier, Rachel Reynolds, Adi Suresh, Gigi Suresh
Team Managers: Jacob Leffler, Cindy Reynolds

Cedar Park MS DI Team 1 “Plastic Breadcrumbs”
10th place in the Up Close Challenge 
Team members: Anjali Carl, Helena Friedman, Autumn Wallace, Sindhu Chidambaram, Aryana Jahadi
Team manager: Shirisha Reddy

Vandegrift HS DI Team 3 “Cowboy Pigeons”
12th place in the Tricky Tales Challenge
Team members: Lahari Suraparaju, Summer Nielson, Emily Mao
Team managers: Heather and Scott Nielson

Cedar Park HS DI Team “Madams of Mayhem”
Team members: Mina Danesh, Cassandra Allen, Erin Alexander, Erica Mihealsick, Gabrielle Merrill
Team manager: Elizabeth Allen

Steiner-Bush DI Team “Reading Robots”
4th place in the For the Future Challenge
Team members: Adeline Martin, Neel Krishna, Samar Krishna, Zoey Littrell, Milena Nair, Jackson Clifford
Team managers: Deepti Dhulipala, Maura Graham, Jaime Nair 

Vandegrift HS DI Team 2 “Spaghetti Yetis”
Team members: Brooke Boykin, Kaitlyn Boykin, Ryann Wager, Mary Bahrami
Team managers: Angie Boykin, Daniel Wager