Michigan Tech Challenges Heritage High School Students to ‘Think Inside the Box’


On Thursday, Oct. 27, Michigan Technological University brought its acclaimed Unboxed Challenges™ program to Heritage High School in Saginaw Township as part of its mission to help students discover educational pathways and hone future workforce skills. Nearly 100 students participated in the event, which was generously sponsored by community partner Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC).

Unboxed Challenges are purposefully designed to bring students with unique abilities together. In about two hours, participants are placed into small groups and must race to decipher scenarios and clues. For many, the challenge builds self-confidence and resilience. Sophomore Vicente Betancourt remarked, “I was astonished that this group of students had enough knowledge to solve this. It was chaotic, but we never felt like it was a mess. We just kept persevering until we got it.”

Michigan Tech’s Center for Educational Outreach, led by Executive Director Cassy Tefft de Muñoz, developed Unboxed Challenges as a way to foster 21st century career skills like critical thinking and analysis, leadership, reasoning, flexibility and resilience. The engaging, real-world simulations are moderated by Tech students — near-peer models who encourage and support participants throughout the event. 

“Facilitating the event allows you to see and empower students who may not believe they can succeed in their current environment. I enjoy watching lightbulbs turn on as they proceed through the puzzles, using curriculum concepts they may not have even learned yet,” shared Dan Curtiss, president of Mind Trekkers, the Michigan Tech student organization that put on the event at Heritage. Curtiss is a senior computer and electrical engineering major at MTU, and hopes to pursue a career in artificial intelligence and Internet of Things development.

Clayten Crawford, another Heritage 10th grader, found that the program helped him learn how to share his math and problem-solving abilities with his teammates. “Everyone in the group played a part. We all had different attributes that complemented each other and allowed us to be successful,” he said.

Nolan Kuntz, also a sophomore, agreed. “It was a very good team-building experience that makes you think outside the box and work with others to find unique approaches to a problem,” he explained. Kuntz recognizes that these kinds of skills will be vital for his plans to become an engineer.

“HSC employees have gladly given their time to come participate in this and help improve not only the Saginaw Township community, but the Saginaw and the Great Lakes Bay region community in general,” said Arik Smith, president of the Saginaw Township Community Schools Board of Education and capital project portfolio planner at HSC. “As an HSC employee, it’s my pleasure to work for a company that’s so involved in the community by going out and being present, visible and actually hands-on.

Michigan Tech also paired up with HSC on Friday, Oct. 28, to provide hands-on career exploration activities to more than 5,000 youth at the Middle Michigan MiCareerQuest event. The two organizations have a long record of collaboration on educational outreach efforts in the Great Lakes Bay Region and a mutual commitment to increasing college access and career readiness for regional students.

About HSC
Hemlock Semiconductor Operations (HSC) is a leading provider of hyper-pure polycrystalline silicon and other silicon-based products used in the manufacture of semiconductor devices, solar cells and modules. HSC is passionate about silicon-based technology and its unique potential to connect and energize the world we share. HSC’s polysilicon enables customers to produce high-tech electronics and solar energy, and our efficient manufacturing process delivers products with an ultralow carbon footprint. HSC began operations in 1961 and is owned by Corning Incorporated and Shin-Etsu Handotai.


Michigan Technological University is a flagship technological public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan. The University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and is home to more than 7,000 students.