This past weekend Cardigan welcomed families to campus for Spring Family Weekend, and the highlight of the weekend was the 2023 Charles C. Gates Invention and Innovation Competition. By all accounts the competition was a success.
What does success look like? On the day of the competition, Wallach looked like the floor of a professional trade show. The boys collectively presented 51 original inventions to the community, setting up their prototypes and posters in every corner of Cardigan’s center for innovative design, applied engineering, and creative arts. Their projects displayed their process from original design to final product, illustrating the important and significant changes made in each iteration of the Gates LAUNCH Cycle; many even had time to develop logos and packaging. With names like the Cookie Mugster, The Butta Cutta, and Clip ‘n’ Rip, there was something for everyone, especially if you are a middle-school boy. The wide range of inventions even prompted one eighth grader who was in attendance to reflect: “The Gates competition surprised me because of how many solutions they had for problems that affect us in our daily lives. Some of the problems I was so used to dealing with, I hadn’t even thought of fixing.”
Success this year also included the addition of eighth-grade competitors. In past years, the Gates class and the competition has only been open to sixth and seventh graders. But this year, eighth graders could choose to take Gates as an elective course, and six students welcomed the challenge, raising the bar with a couple new products as well as collaborating on a pair of inventions from last year.
The Helmeteer’s inventors from last year included Emilio Rojas Velasco ’24 and Guillermo Zaragoza ’24, and their product featured a magnetic strip between a goggle and helmet set, eliminating the gap that causes frostbite on the forehead. At the same time, Noah Humphrey ’24 was working on Easy Strap, a product that made it easier to put on and take off ski goggles. Emilio and Guillermo’s invention won first prize in last year’s competition and Noah placed third. But the boys sensed their work wasn’t finished. This year Emilio joined forces with Noah, as well as Channing Rice ’24, developing a fully magnetic helmet and goggle system that allows for a perfect fit every time. Their perseverance and collaborative efforts resulted in a first-place award.
And the eighth graders weren’t the only ones to recognize the potential of inventions from last year. For those who have attended Gates for multiple years, many of the inventions were familiar but with upgraded and significantly improved features. From a practice baseball bat with inserted weights to a protective umbrella holder for a camera tripod, the boys found success continuing their work from last year.
Other successes of Gates are not as immediately obvious. In its 15th year, the program has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the basement of the chapel; it is only with the perspective of time that its success has become clear. As with any good invention, Gates has succeeded because of the collaboration of many dedicated and creative individuals. Of course, it would never have been possible without the support of Diane Wallach H’16, P’06, who recognized that Cardigan possessed the fertile ground for growing an invention and innovative competition. And with the help of each new director, the program has grown and evolved, providing Cardigan boys with life-changing experiences; the boys discover their creative potential, learn to embrace failure, and develop perseverance and confidence with the help and encouragement of an incredible team of educators.
Success does not necessarily lead to a linear path, a final prototype, or a first-place ribbon. The journey to success may include many setbacks and mistakes; it may not even look like one has made forward progress. But as Director of Gates Eric Escalante P’19,’21 said at the Gates awards ceremony, “When you fail, or you have a mistake, you have to really look at your failures and embrace that failure because that failure is your greatest teacher. Take it as an opportunity to be a better person, a better citizen, and a better innovator.” The leaders of the Gates program have no doubt done this, and with each failure or mistake, the program has grown stronger. And while it will continue to evolve and change, Gates can without hesitation claim success: thanks to Gates, each new generation of Cardigan boys has the tools needed for lifelong learning, a type of success that will last a lifetime.
While all the boys “crushed it,” as Mr. Escalante said, there were some inventions that stood out for a variety of reasons and were recognized at the awards ceremony on Saturday morning:
- First Place: Helmeteer by Noah Humphrey ‘24, Channing Rice ’24, and Emilio Rojas Velasco ’24
- Second Place: Topper Stopper by Christopher Deoki ’25
- Third Place: On Mark by Rio Burnett ’25 and Adlai Nixon ’25
- Patent Nods: Topper Stopper by Christopher Deoki ’25 and Magnetic Ski Straps by Devin Cokinos ’25 and Simon Manners ’25
- Best Salesmen: Comfy Right by Benson Lu ’25 and Kai Mansharamani ’25
- Best Presentation: The Cleat Clip by Max Timbrell ’25
- Community Choice Award: Flip Clip by Kevin Yang ’26
- Judges’ Whimsical Award: The Cookie Mugster by Will Gardner ’25 and Griffin Jones ’25
- The Practicality Award: Sticky Icky by Riley Caples ’25 and Apollo Wang ’25