Students Encouraged to Innovate

By Jane Dail
The Daily Reflector

July 22, 2014 – Inventors from throughout the region will travel to Greenville on Thursday with the hope of appearing on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

At the same time, a new generation of inventors will be showcasing their ideas.

The Middle School Innovators Academy, held in East Carolina University’s Willis Building, is a nine-day camp that will come to a close this week with a trade show-style presentation by each of its 18 students. That same day, “Shark Tank” is hosting open calls for its sixth season at The Martinsborough downtown.

“Shark Tank,” which returns to ABC on Sept. 26 at 8 p.m., allows applicants an opportunity to pitch their ideas and inventions to millionaire and billionaire potential investors.

Middle School Innovators Academy Director Wayne Godwin said the students were tasked with finding a solution to common problems and refining a design for it.

“At the end of it, we hope that these students become entrepreneurs, or intrapreneurs working within companies doing innovative kinds of things,” he said.

Godwin, also director of the Innovation Design Lab at ECU, said students are excited about the show and want to learn about opportunities to appear on it.

MSIA camper Justice Crutchfield, 13, said he is working on finding a solution to short electrical chargers.

“When you plug (chargers) into the wall and you move around too much, they yank or tear,” he said

He said after working to refine his invention he would like to try out for the show.

“I already have an idea, but it’s going to take a little work,” Justice said. “… I’m hoping that if I get a sponsor, I can help make my product widely known.”

Sidney Tripp, 12, said she loves “Shark Tank” and often watches it.

“I was just thinking, we’re building stuff,” she said. “That would be awesome to have for them actually come and see the projects sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are doing.”

Though she is a fan, she is not sure if she would want to appear on the show quite yet.

“I don’t know. I would have to think of a good enough project,” she said. “It would take a lot of work to do it.”

Kelly Andrews, Pitt County Development Commission associate director, said she has contacted the show to see if it would be interested in featuring MSIA on the show and is waiting to hear back.

Godwin said he has contemplated going to the open call and explaining MSIA to producers.

MSIA is a partnership among the Pitt County Development Commission, DSM Dyneema, Pitt County Schools, Beaufort County Schools and the North East Carolina Preparatory School.

The partners, who also helped fund the program, have employee volunteers at the camp.

Kevin Whyte, DSM Dyneema processing engineering manager, said the camp helps students learn and think in an environment with no preconceptions and no wrong ideas, which fosters creativity.

“They have great ideas but maybe no one has ever really listened to them in school or anything, or they brush them off as just they’re a kid with an idea,” Whyte said. “Or they’re a little shy and they don’t want to share ideas. By the time they’re in here doing presentations, they’re standing in front of 10 to 15 people really passionate about their idea. It’s one of those forums where finally their ideas get heard.”

DSM Dyneema Human Resources Generalist Robyn Nalavany, who volunteers at the camp, said MSIA is as helpful to employees as the students.

“After last year, our employees who participated gained just as much from participating,” she said. “So this year we’ve changed it up and have a few more people who didn’t participate last year.”

Inventions from last year include an RFID tag that works with cat doors, a cat habitat, a cellphone case and an ice cream cone holder.

Some former MSIA participants also serve as mentors to help campers through the process.

Lauren Hill, 13, said she attended last year and wanted to come back as a mentor.

“It’s really fun for me,” she said. “I wanted to come back and help people.”

Godwin said though the camp has a science focus, it also includes other aspects including the arts.

He said Hope Middle School theater teacher Jackie Golebiowski works with students on becoming more comfortable speaking for their presentations and to help them be well-rounded.

Golebiowski said theater and arts help develop the whole brain but also can give students at the camp the confidence to market and talk about their ideas.

“It’s one thing for them to come up with an idea, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to communicate that idea with somebody,” she said. “… So many of them come in here, they have great ideas, but they’re too afraid to talk about it.”

Godwin said studies have shown students with more exposure to the arts are more innovative and are more likely to start a new business or become an entrepreneur.

“We hope that by allowing STEM disciplines, art and entrepreneurship to work together that we can grow a new class of students who are adept at a large range of things,” he said. “We’re seeing it here.”

Contact Jane Dail at jdail@reflector.com or 252-329-9585.