Coaches & Mentors

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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About the Award

What is the A.H. Nickless Innovation Award?
The A.H. Nickless Innovation Award, presented by the Nickless Family Charitable Foundation, is an annual award for high school students ages 13 to 18 in Bay, Midland, Saginaw and Tuscola counties. The award has been created to challenge students to work in teams to think innovatively and build solutions to solve problems impacting our world today and into the future.
Why was the A.H. Nickless Innovation Award created?
The award was created by the family of the late Arthur H. Nickless of Bay City to honor his memory. Nickless was a local communications and technology pioneer who spent more than 40 years in the communications industry as the owner of Wolverine Telephone Company.
What are the prizes?
1st Place: $5,000 scholarship per student (up to $25,000 total for the team) and a $20,000 STEM education improvement grant for the school, for a total award of up to $45,000.

2nd Place: $2,500 scholarship per student (up to $12,500 total for the team) and a $10,000 STEM education improvement grant for the school, for a total award of up to $22,500.

3rd Place: $1,000 scholarship per student (up to $5,000 total for the team) and a $5,000 STEM education improvement grant for the school, for a total award of up to $10,000.
What does STEM mean?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The A.H. Nickless Innovation Award was created to increase the attention that high school students give to skills in these areas, as well as to showcase their talents.

About Contest Entry and Rules

Who can participate?
High school students ages 13 to 18 in Bay, Midland, Saginaw and Tuscola counties can participate.
Do students need parental consent?
Yes, parental consent is a requirement to participate. Students meet this requirement by creating a profile and entering their parent’s or guardian’s email address. The parent or guardian will receive an email with instructions for providing consent.
How can the prize money be used?
The prize awards for students will be in the form of scholarship grants made payable to the student and the college, university, or trade or vocational school that he or she eventually attends. Students will receive these grants upon their graduation from high school and enrollment at a higher education institution.

The prize awards for schools will be granted one week following the conclusion of the Award competition. Prior to the next award period, the schools will report to the Award Entities how they used or intend to use the prize grant at their school. Failure to submit this report will disqualify any future teams from the school from entering the competition until the report is provided.
Who can be a coach?
A coach can be anyone who is 19 years old or older, including a teacher, parent or other adult. Though one official coach is required, teams may invite other adult mentors to advise them on their projects.
Can the same person be a coach for multiple teams?
Yes, one person can be the coach for as many teams as he or she is willing to take on.
May students compete in multiple years?
Yes! Students are encouraged to compete in multiple years, as long as they continue to meet all requirements. If they use a similar project, they must show significant advancements or changes to the project.
May students from different schools compete on the same team?
No; each team must be made up of students from the same school.
Can one school have multiple teams participate in the competition?
Yes! Schools are encouraged to have as many teams enter as are interested, as long as each team has a coach and at least two student team members.
What about homeschooled students?
Homeschooled students are welcome to join teams of students attending public or private/parochial high schools. If a homeschooled student is a part of a winning team, the school award will be made to the high school sponsoring the team.
May students participate on their own?
No; each team must consist of two to five members for the full duration of the competition term.
Is everyone on a team required to register online?
Yes; every student team member and coach or mentor must register online to participate in each annual award competition.
What are the first steps in the competition?
After forming a team, giving it a name and obtaining parental consent, students will submit a two-page abstract (description) of their project idea by the Phase One registration deadline. A sample abstract is available here.
What categories can projects fall under?
Projects can be anything related to the following categories:
  • Energy and the Environment
  • Medicine and Health Services
  • Engineering
  • Science and Technology
These categories are intentionally broad to allow you the freedom to be creative with different ideas. These descriptions are for illustrative purposes and are not to be considered as comprehensive. We encourage teams to consider projects that incorporate all kinds of skills, including marketing, debate, public speaking and theater.
What happens after the abstract is submitted?
A panel of experts from the Great Lakes Bay Region will conduct the Phase One judging, based on each team’s project abstract. The top-scoring teams (up to 20 teams) will be selected as the qualifiers for Phase Two. Each of those teams will receive $1,000 to develop their projects and assist with their expenses.
Where can teams go to market or protect their project ideas?
You may wish to contact one of the many centers in the area that focus on innovation and cultivating new ideas, such as:
  • Isabella Bank Institute of Entrepreneurship at Central Michigan University
  • Center for Business and Economic Development at Saginaw Valley State University
  • Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise at Northwood University
  • MidMichigan Innovation Center
On the day of the Phase Two judging event, what is available at the venue for the teams’ use?
Each team will have access to electricity, easels and a 6-foot table for their project presentation. All other desired props or presentation tools will need to be provided by each individual team.
Will there be Internet access at the competition venue?
Yes, there will be Internet access. However, teams must have a backup option in case the Internet is not functioning properly. It is recommended to have a backup of all presentations, which can be saved on a:
  • USB flash drive
  • CD
  • Laptop
What if the team fails to complete its project?
If a team receives the $1,000 but does not complete its project by the Phase Two project report submission deadline, the team must contact the Award Entities to account for the funds disbursed and return any unused funds.
Do teams need to account for the $1,000 they receive to complete their projects?
Yes, each team must document how they spent the $1,000 they receive to complete their project, including any leftover money. Remaining funds do not have to be returned, unless the team withdraws. For teams that complete the competition and have excess funds, this money can be donated to STEM-related projects within the school.
How should the $1,000 participation grant be spent?
The funds should be spent in a manner that supports completion of the project — supplies, equipment, travel for research, etc. Purchase of a team “uniform,” such as lab coats, also is an acceptable use of the funds.

About Judging

Who will be judging the projects?
A panel of experts from the Great Lakes Bay Region will conduct the judging.
What restrictions are there for judges?
Individuals may not serve as judges for the competition if they have relatives participating in the competition or if they are in any way affiliated with a high school represented in the competition.
What are the judges looking for in an abstract?
During Phase One, judges will be evaluating each team’s abstract for the following:
  • Innovation
  • Whether the project solves a real-world problem
  • Whether the project is viable
  • How well the team explains the project
What are the judges looking for in Phase Two?
During Phase Two, judges will review each team’s project report and look for the following:
  • Technological and scientific viability
  • Uniqueness of the project’s core idea
  • Demonstration of market demand for the project
  • Understanding of the finances required to fund the project
  • Overall project presentation
What does it take to win?
There's no "formula" for winning, and the winning projects so far have been very diverse … but they do have a few things in common. Winning teams tend to have more than two members. It's not impossible that a duo will someday win, but consider this: Having more team members gives you the opportunity to stack your team with a more diverse talent pool. Think beyond the math and science superstars and consider what your friends and classmates who excel in other subjects could bring to the table. You are being judged on the quality of your presentations and reports, so maybe a student who excels in English and a student on the forensics team would be assets? The marketability of the project also counts, so maybe that BPA or DECA member you know could add an element of business acumen to your team? You get the idea. The bottom line: The winning teams’ abstracts and reports are well-written and carefully proofread. Their projects are viable, marketable and well-explained. Their presentations are polished and well-rehearsed.