Flint-area Young Innovators look to solve problems large and small

FLINT, Michigan — They are little, but their ideas are mighty. The next, next generation of innovators took center stage at Kettering University earlier this month, showcasing inventions including odorless nail polish, self-warming boots and portable, adaptable water filters. 

The Young Innovators Fair is basically an old-school science fair on steroids. It featured 102 students in 4th-7th grade from five local schools with inventions that ran the gamut of stroller skis, a conditioner brush, styrofoam dissolving liquid, and paw pads for pets. 

“I truly believe you have to educate them at an early age because by the time they get to high school they already have their path somewhat figured out, so we really want to implement that hands-on learning experience of thinking outside of the box,” said Sarah Perkins, co-operative education manager at Kettering and the program coordinator.

While at Kettering, students also participated in workshops on DNA testing, airplane assembly, robotics and balloon tower building. Schools participating in the event included Perry Innovation Center and Indian Hill Elementary from Grand Blanc, Dieck Elementary and Rankin Elementary from Swartz Creek, and St. John Vianney in Flint. 

Ten-year-old innovator Jenna Swales of Dieck Elementary took inspiration from seeing a need to filter water at home and at school, creating an adjustable, adaptable filter. “These can go on anything, anywhere. (It is) made from zeolite powder, activated charcoal, nylon, cotton and a balloon to stretch over any item,” she says. 

Perry Innovation Center student Ava Jacobs, also 10, came up with her idea after her mom noticed all used, styrofoam coffee cups at her work piling up in the trash. “I really like the earth and I want animals to stay safe,” Ava explained as she described how her trash can with a mixer at the bottom would add a dissolving substance that stirs the styrofoam together. 

“I tested natural substances, but nothing worked that well, so scientists need to work on it more. I did find that acetone works but its toxic so there needs to be a different solution,” she said. 

Teacher Jamie Neubecker said students have worked on these inventions since September and that the process helped the students problem solve and think creatively. “Most of the projects you see come from everyday problems that the children might see at home or with their parents and it’s what they saw that needed to be fixed,” said Neubecker, a fifth grade teacher at Indian Hill Elementary.

Of the students participating, 32 will go on to the Michigan Invention Convention at The Henry Ford Museum on April 27. From there students from three to 12 will be selected to participate in the National Invention Convention in May. 

The Young Innovators Program originated in Minneapolis and has been offered since 2000 in Genesee County, first through the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce and the Genesee Intermediate School District. Kettering University adopted the program in 2013 as part of its mission to be engaged in the Flint community as well as provide pre-college opportunities for students of all ages to gain exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. 

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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