Cardigan Mountain School A boarding and day school for boys in grades 6 through 9
Learning to Follow Creative Instincts

The Charles C. Gates Invention & Innovation Competition: Learning to Follow Creative Instincts

It’s just before 9:00 a.m. on the Friday of Spring Family Weekend. Outside Wallach, sixth and seventh graders mill about in white lab coats and khaki pants. Official name tags are pinned to the pockets of their coats and green Cardigan ties hang from their necks with crisp knots pulled tightly up to the collars of their white button-down shirts. Director of Gates Eric Escalante P’19,’22 and Gates coach Annie Clark herd them together, lining them up and directing them to face the camera. For just a moment the boys turn and smile together, marking an important moment for all of them––the completion of their inventions for the 2022 Charles C. Gates Invention & Innovation Competition.

But lest you think it’s all polish and perfection, it’s important to note that just after this moment, one of the boys leans a little too far forward. His sunglasses––mirrored, the very definition of coolness––slide off the end of his nose, directly into the storm drain at his feet. All eyes break from the camera and turn to stare into the storm drain.

As the boys make their way back into Wallach, some speculate about the ways they might be able to retrieve the glasses, but for the most part, they have already moved on, thinking instead about the hours ahead during which they will share their inventions with the community.

The boys have been working toward this moment for five months––researching their ideas, developing prototypes, and refining their marketing plans. As the first members of the community enter Wallach, the boys take their places next to their posters and recite their elevator pitches to themselves one last time. For Mr. Escalante and Ms. Clark, it’s a proud moment; they’ve encouraged and problem-solved and coached and led these boys forward since January, and now it’s time for them to step back and let the boys share their inventions.

Chris Day listening to a sales pitch from students in the Gates Program

Head of School Chris Day listening to a sales pitch from sixth graders Cole Brown and Tigger Tanglertsumphun who developed the Snow Bro, a braking system that attaches to a standard snow scooter.

Wallach comes alive with voices. In the Gates I.D.E.A. Shop, judge Dan Demar listens to two eager inventors, James Frost ’25 and Brady Drury ’25, explain their Dry Cam, an attachment for a camera tripod that holds an umbrella for rainy-day photoshoots. In the E.P.I.C. Center, inventor Romeo N’kumbu ’24 discusses his Cookie Launcher with a group of parents, explaining that it not only works for humans but for pets as well. And upstairs in the Tsui Yee Gallery, Finn Donelan ’24 demonstrates The Turtle Getaway, a floating platform developed for the turtles in Cardigan’s Living Lab. 

It's a delight to overhear short bits of conversation. Take Wilson Yu ’25, for example. He’s presenting the MagShirt, a product meant for people with arm or shoulder injuries; magnets replace one of the shirt’s side seams, making dressing and undressing easier. For one parent who works with orthopedic patients, the invention offers a solution to her patients’ troubles; her enthusiasm for Wilson’s shirt is infectious. Then there’s the conversation between Noah Humphrey ’24 and Director of Communications Chris Adams, who used work in marketing  in the ski industry. Noah’s invention is a ski goggle strap that uses snaps instead of buckles for easier adjustment on the fly. Mr. Adams quickly takes out his phone and snaps a picture of the prototype to share with his former colleagues. From a folding yardstick to a device for preventing slamming doors, from a skateboard with interchangeable wheels to a defogging device for face masks, the boys followed a variety of problems to their logical conclusions, developing practical and most often very simple solutions.

Students present their invention to a Gates judge

Gates judge Dan DeMars learning about the Dry Cam, an invention developed by sixth graders Brady Drury and James Frost.

For two hours the boys shared their inventions with the community—faculty, parents, students, and friends. But the most important guests were the judges––Alyssa Boehm, Dan Demar P’11, ‘18, Timothy Frazier ’00, and Peter Goehrig. With a total of 36 inventions and 54 inventors, the judges had a lot to learn, and by the end of the morning, they had chosen seven teams with whom they wanted to have further discussions. 

Late that afternoon, the teams presented their inventions to a live audience in Humann Theatre and answered the judges’ questions. The boys not only brought their posters and prototypes but also their bravery and confidence; they stood at the front of the theater selling their ideas with solid market research and fully developed prototypes.

Then came the waiting. The inventors, the community, the world had to wait until the next morning for the results of the competition. When the awards were announced, there was plenty to celebrate. Helmeteer inventors Emilio Rojas ’24 and Guillermo Zaragoza ’24 came out on top, and two teams––Key Point by Terry Langetieg ’24 and Jeongung “Edgar” Choi ’24 and The Shampoo Locker by Junyan “Joey” Huang ’24 and Zhengyuan “Charlie” Liu ’24––received patent nods, a special designation that provides financial support for pursuing a U.S. patent. 

Gates judges outside of Wallach

Gates judges Peter Gehrig, Timothy Frazier '00, Dan DeMars, and Alyssa Boehm with Joe Cougar in front of Wallach prior to the 14th Annual Gates Competition.

And last but not least, Romeo N’kumbu, who developed the Cookie Launcher, didn’t make the finals, but he left an impression on the judges. They decided to award him with an unofficial prize, the Judges’ Whimsical Award, due to his commitment to following his passion and love for Oreos.

All the boys, regardless of the awards, spent the last five months growing their inventions, from vague ideas and half-formed questions into viable solutions and tested prototypes. They learned to follow their creative instincts, persevere through dead ends, practice and polish their presentation skills, and speak with confidence about their original ideas. It’s what being in sixth and seventh grade at Cardigan is all about. And who knows, perhaps these same skills might just help them figure out how to get those sunglasses back.


  • Third Place: Easy Strap by Noah Humphrey ’24
  • Second Place: Shoelace Lock by Leo Krawitt ’25
  • First Place: Helmeteer by Emilio Rojas ’24 and Guillermo Zaragoza ’24
  • Best Salesmen: Helmeteer by Emilio Rojas ’24 and Guillermo Zaragoza ’24
  • Best Presentation: Dry Cam by James Frost ’25 and Brady Drury ’25 
  • Community Choice Award: In ‘n’ Out Cleats by Leo Kim ’24 and Julian Santini ’24
  • Judges’ Whimsical Award: The Cookie Launcher by Romeo N’kumbu ’24
  • Patent Nod: Key Point by Terry Langetieg ’24 and Jeongung “Edgar” Choi ’24
  • Patent Nod: The Shampoo Locker by Junyan “Joey” Huang ’24 and Zhengyuan “Charlie” Liu ’24

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