(TNS) — From more than 4,100 applicants across the United States, Jackie Smith and her students were chosen as North Carolina’s state winner for the STEM project.

STEM is Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow Contest that “encourages teachers and students to solve real-world issues in their community using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” according to Samsung’s website.

Smith is a science teacher at East Duplin High School who fishes in her spare time, which is how she came up with the STEM project. While fishing locally, Smith found many animals and plants in the water that weren’t native to that area.

They weren’t supposed to be there. Their presence was making the native plants and animals sick from bacteria. Smith said the problem isn’t as bad in Duplin County right now, and she wants to keep it that way.

“I wanted to think of an idea to prevent the contamination of our waterways,” Smith said. She submitted a lesson plan to Samsung noting how she would create a wash station for watercraft. “They’re able to wash any species off the boat before they enter our waterways and use it when they leave,” she said.

Smith and her students won the state round and will receive $20,000 worth of technology for the classrooms, including camcorders, tablets and laptops. Now students are getting ready for Phase 4 of the competition, Smith said.

They’re making a video and putting together all of their data and research to begin building the project. They will submit the video to the contest by Feb. 9. There will be 15 winners from Phase 4 out of the 51 state winners, which includes Washington, D.C. Winners will be chosen by the public through online voting using the videos submitted by teachers and students.

Those 15 winners will receive a minimum of $40,000 worth of technology. There will eventually be one final winner, which will be announced in April.

While the students are excited to begin drawing plans and making the video for Phase 4, Smith said they’re all extremely happy with winning at the state level. It was important, Smith said, for students to accomplish what they did from a rural area, and the students were shocked and excited by the news.

Now they’ll all throw their focus into the video and begin working on the actual project, which will be paid for out of Smith’s pocket and from any donations she receives. Donations may be made to East Duplin High School’s STEM project.

“The students are very engaged and interested,” Smith said. “I’m excited for the students to get new technology in the classroom.”

©2015 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.