It’s just before 9:00 am on the Friday of Spring Family Weekend. Outside Wallach, sixth and seventh graders mill about in white lab coats and khaki pants. 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. With energy emanating from their cores, the boys are in constant motion, bouncing off each other and onto the surrounding lawn. 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 Charles C. Gates Invention and Innovation Competition.
But lest you think it’s all polish and perfection, it’s important to note that at just 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 what they have learned.
Wallach comes alive with voices. In the Gates IDEA Lab, Judge Dan DeMars P’11,’18 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 those rainy-day photoshoots. In the EPIC 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 he developed for the turtles in Cardigan’s Living Lab.
It's a delight to overhear short bits of conversation. Take Chengtian “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 it easier for dressing and undressing. 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 to be a sales rep 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 to take 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.
For two hours the boys share their inventions with the community—faculty, parents, students, and friends. But the most important guests are the judges––Alyssa Boehm, Dan DeMars, 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 eight teams from whom they wanted to hear more:
- David Balshen ’25 and Hanwen “Ares” Zhu ’25: Bag Box
- Jeongung “Edgar” Choi ’24 and Terry Langetieg ’24: Key Point
- Brady Drury ’25 and James Frost ’25: Dry Cam
- Junyan “Joey” Huang ’24 and Charlie Liu ’24: The Shampoo Locker
- Noah Humphrey ’24: Easy Strap
- Leo Krawitt ’25: ShoeLace Lock
- Emilio Rojas Velasco ’24 and Guillermo Zaragoza ’24: Helmeteer
- Kai Mansharamani ’25: The Neck Buddy
On Friday afternoon, these students 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:
- Third Place: “Easy Strap” by Noah Humphrey
- Second Place: “ShoeLace Lock” by Leo Krawitt
- First Place and Best Salesmen: “Helmeteer” by Emilio Rojas and Guillermo Zaragoza
- Best Presentation: “Dry Cam” by James Frost and Brady Drury
- Community Choice Award: “In ‘n’ Out Cleats” by Leo Kim ’24 and Julian Santini ’24
In addition, two teams were awarded Patent Nods, a special designation that provides financial support for a U.S. patent application:
- “Key Point” by Terry Langetieg and Edgar Choi
- “Shampoo Locker” by Joey Huang and Charlie Liu
And last but not least, that Cookie Launcher, developed by Romeo N’kumbu, didn’t make the finals, but it left a mark on the hearts of the judges. They decided to give Romeo 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.