HUDSON, Minn. (WCCO) — Students at Hudson Middle School have received a big national honor.

Two students placed third in the nation in the “Siemens We Can Change the World” Challenge for their project, which is aimed at protecting the ground water we drink.

Katie Cardell and Shayla Wallin presented their findings on the impact of pharmaceuticals contaminating drinking water when not properly disposed.

Inside the engineering and technology room at Hudson Middle School, students are learning to study environmental issues that plague our society and find solutions.

“We tried to find a way to get the pharmaceuticals out of the water systems,” Cardell said. “We advertised a drop box downtown and we tried to get more people to bring out their medications down there and dispose of them correctly.”

Cardell and Wallin led the charge, wanting to save animals and humans from the ill effects caused when medications are flushed or poured down the drain.

“The animals and other organisms that are living in the water like … male frogs have been developing female parts,” Wallin said.

Their efforts led to a 500-percent increase in the amount of meds turned in for proper disposal in Hudson. It was enough to make them national finalist in a contest aimed at exposing young people to careers in STEM.

These careers are on the rise, and there is a push nationally to get more women excited about the field. Teacher Chris Deleon seems to have a special touch in doing that.

“STEM is huge – science, technology, engineering and math. Those STEM careers, they’re really big and they’re only growing,” Deleon said. “About three years ago, I had some students – five girls, actually – win a water purification challenge for NASA, so they designed a water purification system to be used on the moon,” he said.

Deleon hopes their success is contagious. Cardell and Wallin hope this recognition is enough to get others serious about STEM careers.

Each student won a $5,000 savings bond, a tablet computer and $1,000 grant for their school.

Reg Chapman