Young inventors represent Tampa Bay at national convention

Cambria Pryor, a gifted 9-year-old home-schooled student from St. Petersburg, invented “Reminder Switch,” a colorful device to encourage and remind people to turn off their lights. Katrina Halpern, a Tampa sixth-grader, created Zip It, an affordable backpack to deter thefts.

Pryor and Halpern were among eight Tampa Bay students who traveled to Dearborn, MI, to participate in the third annual National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo. The event by the STEMIE Coalition, a nonprofit promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math instruction in kindergarten through 12th grade, was held at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation on June 1.

Tracy Zuluaga, STEMIE’s affiliate in Florida and executive director of the Valrico-based Bright Young Minds Coalition, called it a “landmark year” for the students, who exhibited “next to world innovators.”

“That’s never happened before,” she explains. “Many parents referred to it as a life-changing event.”

Pryor claimed first place among fourth-graders at the Florida Invention Convention in May, along with a ribbon for Best Research, earning her an invitation to the national competition. There was little time to prepare, but her grandmother Marianne Lazzara did some quick fundraising through her home business Dish-a-licious Kitchen, which sells desserts and Lazzara’s sauce and meatballs.

“I’m still making the food,” she reports after their return. “Some people just donated. They just wanted to contribute to a wonderful opportunity.”

Pryor came up with her project through the gifted program at Azalea Elementary, which she attends part-time as part of her curriculum. A school project on simple machines initially propelled her into the state competition.

She says she saw people forgetting to turn off the lights, so she came up with the idea. “It’s good for the electricity and for the Earth and it saves money,” she explains.

Along with attraction-getting colors, she’s added a pulley and wedge to help handicapped people in a wheelchair reach the light. She’s got three more ideas -- and says she thinks she’ll be inventing for her “whole life.”

What does she like about inventing? “That I get to make different things and make the world a better place,” she says.

Halpern, a student at Academy at the Lakes in Land O’ Lakes who placed third in her grade level at state, developed a backpack that is inherently secure, says her father, Peter Halpern. Instead of relying on locks, the design features no zippers in accessible areas, restricting access even to recess pockets.

She learned about the need for the backpack through her school’s sister school in Nepal, where theft of notebooks, pens, and paper from backpacks is a problem.

She’s been entrepreneurially minded since age 5, when she made lemonade, brownies, and cookies (with help) to sell to neighbors mowing their lawns, cleaning their cars, or working in their yards on Saturdays.

Here are the other students who attended the national convention.

• Nate Smith, a Land O’Lakes sixth-grader from Academy at the Lakes, invented a battery-operated cooling device for collapsible sports chairs that relies on a block of ice and fan. It’s called Air Chair.

• Chloe Kamat, a fifth-grader from Odessa, created a solution for falling and bunched-up bed blankets: Snuggle Sides. It relies on velcro to hold the blankets in place. Kamat also is a student at Academy at the Lakes.

• Sky Smatsky, a Tampa sixth-grader from Academy at the Lakes, invented Cool Canine to keep dogs comfortable while in bed. It turns on a fan automatically when the temperature gets hot, preventing overheating.

• Stella Curry, a Tampa eighth-grader from Academy at the Lakes, created a stuffed bear to help refugees called Bear of My Heart. It comes with pouches for food and water, plus a flashlight, and can trigger a solar-powered GPS tracker.

• Annalisa Ureña, a Tampa seventh-grader who attends Family Christ School in Tampa Palms, designed a band to help the visually and hearing impaired navigate streets by replacing visible direction with vibration.

• Luke Magnusson, a 5th-grader from Wesley Chapel, and the son of Academy at the Lakes teacher, Elizabeth Magnusson, invented Safe Nail. The device can hold any size nail in place while you hammer it in, so your fingers are safe.

The national convention furthers invention education, which stimulates STEM and entrepreneurial ideas. Bright Young Minds already is working with school districts in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties to further invention education -- and expects to expand to 10 other districts statewide in the fall. Among them are Sarasota, Manatee and Polk.

It also will be adding an entrepreneurial curriculum developed by a student, Emily Stein of Potomac, MD, which has become a year-long elective course. “We are releasing that curriculum in Florida,” Zuluaga says. “My goal is for kids to understand what their options are when they graduate high school.”

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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