After a three-year hiatus, the Charles C. Gates Invention & Innovation Competition is happening––in person and in real time! On May 6 and 7 during Spring Family Weekend, 55 students in the sixth and seventh grades will be ready with their posters, prototypes, and elevator speeches to sell their ideas. From a hoody with a removable hood to an oreo dunk tank, from adjustable ski goggles to a folding yardstick, from a brake for a snow scooter to a multi-dog dogfood feeder, the projects demonstrate the dedication of the boys to solving real-life problems with innovative solutions.
This year has not been without its challenges. The pandemic continued to cause scheduling complications, and it wasn’t until April that the Gates team could plan for the competition with any certainty. To make matters worse, Gates Director Eric Escalante P’20,’22 injured his thumb and had to have surgery.
“With only one hand, I’ve had to rely on the boys in ways I’ve never had to in the past,” says Mr. Escalante. “We’ve faced countless challenges this year, and I’m so proud of the way the boys have responded. In every situation, they’ve jumped in and come up with solutions.”
One challenge the students are facing head on is their lack of prior knowledge about the competition. In the past, students participating in Gates have witnessed their older brothers present, but because the last live competition took place in 2019, none of the students know what to expect on May 6 and 7 when they stand in front of the community and share their ideas.
“There’s a healthy nervousness this year,” observes Mr. Escalante. “We’re all learners in this competition; it’s its own experiment and holds a lot of uncertainty. We’re excited to try some new things and use the experience to keep building the program.”
One new aspect of the competition is its location. In the past, students have set up their presentations in Turner Arena; for the first time this year the competition will be located in Wallach, the same space in which they have been inventing, creating, and innovating all year.
“I’m excited to have the competition take place in Wallach, where the community can not only see the students’ projects but also see the space and the equipment which was used to develop the students’ prototypes.”Gates Director Eric Escalante P’20,’22
“I’m excited to have the competition take place in Wallach, where the community can not only see the students’ projects but also see the space and the equipment which was used to develop the students’ prototypes,” says Mr. Escalante. “The work of other students from other classes will also be on display; the Tsui Yee Gallery will be open and visitors can peek into the other classrooms as well. Math, woodworking, art––they’ll all be on display!”
And while Mr. Escalante, and fellow Gates Coach Annie Clark, have invested countless hours into what should be a very successful competition, they have also relied upon a long list of faculty volunteers––including John Burritt, Missy Escalante P’20,’22, Kyla Joslin, and Amy Kreuzburg P’14,’17,––who this spring have been working one-on-one with students, coaching them through the final iterations of their prototypes and posters. The Facilities Department and Assistant Director of Facilities Steve Muszynski have also been helpful when Mr. Escalante doesn’t have the right materials or needs a specific drill bit or power tool not available in the Gates lab. Lastly, no entrepreneurial project would be complete without product testing; the community has consistently stepped forward and volunteered to test the students’ products and help them determine next steps.
Since the students’ return from vacation at the end of March, the Gates lab has been a constant hub of activity as students dig deep into their projects, engaging in productive failure, imagining solutions, and articulating their ideas. Class time, day and evening study halls, free periods are all being used to squeeze out every last minute to finalize, practice, and perfect.
“I’m really excited for the boys to present again,” says Mr. Escalante. “We’re back live and I can’t wait for families to come and see what the boys have produced!”