SODA students win MIT grant for invention

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Police officers soon could have protective sensing devices for their vehicles invented by students on the School of Dreams Academy robotics team.

The invention is the students’ project for the 2013-14 annual Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams competition.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Students on the School of Dreams Academy robotics team won a chance to compete in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s annual inventor’s competition. Pictured in front, from left, are Maria Troyer, Taylor Torres, Danielle Garcia, Paige Torres and Chloe Grubb. In back, from left, are Dion Talamante, Seth Howe, Victoria Troyer, Zack Daniels and Denton Shaver. Students not pictured are Albert Reed, Clara Sims and Noah Gelinas.

The local students were chosen from thousands of high schools applicants around the nation to be one of 15 teams to compete in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s inventor competition, said SODA Principal Mike Ogas.

“Many times we don’t think of New Mexico as being able to compete at a national level, especially in terms of academics,” said Ogas. “We hear that we’re 50th in the country in terms of academic performance, but then you get a group of kids … and give them an opportunity to excel at levels that are commensurate to their abilities, and you begin to see what can happen.”

The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program was founded by Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the most prolific inventors in U.S. history. He and his wife, Dorothy, founded the program at MIT in 1994 with the goal of inspiring high school students to pursue creative careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The competition required students to invent and design some type of technology that could solve an everyday problem in America or in a Third World country.

The SODA students came up with a remote sensing device on top of a squad car’s emergency lights that would alert police officers if someone unexpectedly approached their vehicle.

“When policemen are sitting in their cars, they are very vulnerable,” said Chloe Grubb, a SODA senior. “They’re not really paying attention, so somebody could easily approach them, which is where our invention came from.”

To verify the feasibility of the device, students talked to local police officers and Lt. Joseph Byers, SODA’s security resource officer.

Their invention won an $8,600 grant from the Lemelson-MIT foundation to cover the costs of building a prototype.

“It feels like we’re part of something bigger in the world,” said team member and senior Danielle Garcia. “We’re actually inventing something for the better — for people and their safety.”

In June, the students will travel to MIT’s annual public exhibit, EurekaFest in Cambridge, Mass., to showcase their invention.

All contestants are invited to stay at MIT’s Baker House dorms, and the Lemelson-MIT foundation will pay the travel, lodging and food expenses for six students and two teachers.

The 13-member SODA team will have to raise the money for the rest of their team to go. They are looking for sponsors.

Creighton Edington, math and science teacher, heads the robotics department and coached the only other New Mexico school to compete at the prestigious university. He taught at San Jon High School, near Tucumcari, before coming to SODA and took them to MIT.

Edington also helped Chloe Grubb with the competition’s application process.

The competition is particularly important to her because getting accepted into MIT has been her dream for several years, and the competition could help, she said.

“This is the first time we’ve gotten this grant,” said Grubb. “We’ve been applying for the last two years.”

“The end-goal of my program is to actually have students as ready, if not more ready than college engineering students, when they graduate SODA,” said Edington. “To me, this is proof-positive that our program is working.”

Science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, is the fastest growing area of careers, and is predicted to outweigh non-STEM jobs over the next 10 years, said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program in a press release.

“The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative helps students foster skills in these fields so they are better prepared to make both a social and economic impact through their career choices,” Schuler said.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.