2024 Wall of Wind Mitigation Challenge: high school teams design, test protective wind barriers

Exciting competition at Florida International University inspires future wind engineers, connects them with local practitioners

Published on June 1, 2024, by Erik Salna



South Florida high school students were on the edge of their seats as they watched their wind mitigation models perform against the FIU Wall of Wind, a world-class wind research facility funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

It was the annual FIU-hosted Wall of Wind Mitigation Challenge, which took place this year on March 21. Teams of local high school students developed innovative wind mitigation concepts and solutions within guidelines set by the Wall of Wind engineers — and tested their designs’ effectiveness and performance at the WOW wind tunnel.

The WOW is the largest and most powerful university research facility of its kind, capable of simulating a Category 5 hurricane with winds over 157 mph.

The Challenge

The objective for the 2024 Wall of Wind (WOW) Mitigation Challenge was to design a wind mitigation barrier that would provide the best wind protection for a hypothetical Miami Beach condominium property.

Imagine a six-story condominium building situated along the beach, and between the building and the beach is an outdoor leisure area that needs to be protected from wind off the Atlantic Ocean. This leisure area could include things like a pool, activity/entertainment space with a small pavilion and seating area.

Each model barrier was set in place, and the wind speed was gradually increased to 30 MPH until small wooden blocks (provided by FIU and spread around the leisure area to be protected) started to fall over. Scoring was based on the total number of wooden blocks that fell over during the wind test and the windspeed at which the first block fell over.

TERRA Environmental Research Institute team with their first-place design.

The José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy team with their second-place entry.

Teams from eleven high schools prepared three components for the competition: the physical wind test of their wind barrier model, a live oral presentation, and a written technical paper. The competition required problem solving, teamwork, and creativity — interwoven with science, technology, engineering, mathematics, architectural design and even entrepreneurship.

The WOW Challenge allowed my students to put their engineering design practices into reality by being able to test their ideas. They love the challenges of having to present their idea and then watch their physical model being tested in the Wall of Wind.

– Carmen Garcia, Engineering/Computer Science Instructor, José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy

“The WOW Challenge is a platform to educate high school students in our community with regards to hurricane engineering and community resilience," said Arindam Gan Chowdhury, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the NHERI Wall of Wind experimental facility. "Student teams are given real-world wind engineering problems, and they conceive and validate wind mitigation concepts to solve such problems."

The competition also inspires students to pursue STEM education and step up as the next generation of leaders facing natural hazards and extreme weather.

“The WOW Challenge informs students about the importance of mitigation and community resilience to prepare them as future leaders in disaster mitigation, especially under the scenario of climate change,” Chowdhury added. “We see these young students become motivated toward STEM careers and possibly enrolling at FIU with the dream of performing research at our national NHERI WOW experimental facility.”

The Wall of Wind Challenge was a fun and unique experience. I learned a lot through the process of actually creating the wall with my teammates and also seeing how long it lasted in the actual test. It also gave me a glimpse as to how buildings are tested against hurricane winds in order to protect civilians, which wasn’t something that I had thought about before. All in all, the challenge was a fun, engaging, and eye-opening experience!

– Chedelie Jean, student at Miramar High School

Team from the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart with their third-place design.

Handsome trophies for the 2024 WOW Wind Mitigation Challenge

First place design, by the team from the TERRA Environmental Research Institute

FIU Engineering judges

The WOW Challenge is also an opportunity for FIU Engineering alumni to volunteer as judges and give back to the university and the next generation of engineers. The Challenge completes a circle of engagement that begins with high school students competing at the FIU Challenge, becoming FIU Engineering students, graduating, and getting hired by local engineering companies — and then returning to judge this annual competition.

Companies where the alumni-judges are employed generously contributed as event sponsors. Adrian and CONNECT Engineering sponsored the event video. Other sponsors included DDA Forensics, Aluces Corporation, Melchor Consultation Services, LLC, Quick Tie Products, Inc., and The Biltmore School.

Other judges represented the many supporters of the program, including the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Miami-Dade County Emergency Management, FIU Emergency Management, FOX Weather Network, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and Broward County Public Schools.

I was ‘blown away’ by some of the student projects. They were extremely impressive. The Wall of Wind Challenge continues to push our students to dig deep, do research, and apply their engineering skills to solve a problem. I was impressed with their mitigation solutions, and it is obvious that the WOW Challenge opens their minds to new ideas, opportunities, and career paths. We are grateful for these opportunities and thank FIU for their dedication to student learning.

– Dr. JP Keener, Science Department, Broward County Schools

Winning teams

This year’s winners:

  • First place: TERRA Environmental Research Institute
  • Second place: José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy
  • Third place: Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart

The three winning teams received unique awards designed by local artist George Gadson, featuring bronze Wall of Wind fans inside a framed case.

The Challenge is hosted by the FIU International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC) and Extreme Events Institute (EEI) with grant support from the the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The NHERI Wall of Wind Experimental Facility located at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and is part of the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) network. The WOW enables researchers to better understand wind effects on civil infrastructure systems and to prevent wind hazards from becoming community disasters.


As a civil engineer myself and an engineer STEAM teacher, I see a great value for my students being involved in the WOW competition. It brings awareness to my school’s engineering academy students, so they can connect the dots of everything they do in math, science, and even art — applies to real life engineering and technology. Also, my students are exposed to the beautiful engineering campus at FIU and start dreaming of one day becoming FIU students and earning their degree in engineering there.

– Mr. Escobedo, Engineering and Robotics Department Head Teacher, TERRA Environmental Research Institute