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Colfax High students receive MIT invention grant

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Colfax High School students have been awarded a $7,500 to create the Tri-Metric, a construction layout tool that can be used when building emergency housing to increase structural integrity. Colfax High School is one of 16 high schools nationwide to be selected this year to the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam.

Jonathan Schwartz, a Colfax High math and engineering teacher, is mentoring the team. “This opportunity builds on the Career Technical Education program we’ve expanded at Colfax High School with the support of the Sierra College Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Collaborative,” Schwartz said. We focus on product development to attract students to STEM careers.

InvenTeams of high school students, teachers and mentors receive grants to invent technological solutions to real-world problems and to inspire a new generation of inventors.

The Colfax students will invent a Tri-Metric tool that can be used when building emergency housing. The goal is to make it easier to lay out a house. It would allow novice builders to make sure the floors, walls and roof are all square, maximizing support to make the home sturdy.  The students hope to design the mechanical device so it can be manufactured for under $20. The idea is to build in all the complex math of trigonometry into the tool so it can be used by anyone.

“Not only will it help with construction and address a need in relief efforts,” Schwartz said. “More importantly, there will an educational component in this invention that teaches the math involved in constructing a house.”

Leigh Estabrooks, invention education officer from the Lemelson-MIT Program, said the InvenTeams program represents the future. “We place an emphasis on STEM-focused projects to develop interest in these fields among youth,” Estabrooks said. “With InvenTeams, our primary goal is to foster high school students’ passion for invention, in turn inspiring them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math.” 

Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Director, Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT), Sierra College is mentoring the team as well. “This project is an extension of the leadership Jonathan Schwartz and Colfax High School have demonstrated as participants in CACT’s Sierra STEM Collaborative,” Pepper-Kittredge said. “By applying their design, fabrication and math skills to solve a global problem, students, especially young women, will be inspired to consider technical careers.”

Entrepreneur and author Peter Sims, who wrote “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries,” is also mentoring the team. A Colfax High School graduate, Sims has already met with students and inspired them with tales of how industry leaders innovate and produce new products.

Schwartz, himself an inventor, says that students will experience working on a team and applying critical thinking skills. “They will design, and repeatedly prototype, test, and rebuild the Tri-Metric construction tool over nine months. They will go through the same experience that inventors go through,” said Schwartz. “In June, the students will showcase a prototype of their invention at EurekaFest at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.” EurekaFest, presented by the Lemelson-MIT Program, is a multi-day celebration designed to empower a legacy of inventors through activities that inspire youth, honor role models and encourage creativity and problem solving.