David Brain is banking that his invention is something America can’t live without: a device that stirs a pot of soup, helping a cook to be more productive in the kitchen.
The sixth-grader’s design is the result of an intensive two-week summer program called the Middle School Innovators Academy, created in collaboration between the NC State College of Design and the East Carolina University Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development, which funded the pilot project.
Six pre-teens worked with industrial design professors and graduate students at NC State to conceive, prototype, and develop presentations about their new products—everything from playground equipment to computer mice to a device for walking on water.
The young inventors learned about patent searches, how to create design sketches, 2D and 3D computer modeling, and—perhaps most difficult of all—how to accept constructive criticism and make necessary changes to their designs.
It seemed a tall order for even these six, who were chosen from a pool of 40 sixth-graders at Centennial Campus Middle School in Wake County.
The larger group had spent much of the spring semester maintaining “design notebooks” with their ideas for inventions.
“We want to create a passion for innovation in our public schools,” said Percy Hooper, professor of industrial design and co-director of the program. “We want to give the students a chance to apply design thinking to other challenges in their educational careers.”
On the final day of the program, the students dressed in business attire and made formal presentations about their projects to their families.
“I like the concept of figuring out how you can make an easier life for others,” said Garrett Hess, 12. Before they created their designs, said Hess, the students first had to identify a need, or market, for their product.
“This is just a phenomenal program to wrap around her and to pull out that creativity,” said Melvin Whitehead, whose niece, Danyae Bellamy, was one of the participants.
The program is badly needed, said Bryan Covington, a master in industrial design student who helped direct the youngsters.
“I didn’t even know what industrial design was when I was this age,” confessed Covington. “I was just drawing planes and tanks in math class.”
The pilot project—also held at ECU with students from Hope Middle School in Greenville, NC—was a success at both universities, said Hooper, who is seeking funding to double the size of the project in Summer, 2011.
“Will a line of new products appear on the store shelves as a result of the Middle School Innovators Academy?” asks Hooper. “With funding, many things are possible. What they have produced is comparable to what products on the way to manufacturing go through.”
Brain’s ultimate goal invention? A hover-craft that uses a magnetic field to stay airborne.
“I’m a dreamer,” Brain said. “I dream a lot.”
This article was originally published in the Bulletin, a blog of NC State University: http://www.ncsu.edu/faculty-and-staff/bulletin/