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Young Inventors Cause a Stir

David Brain is banking that his invention is something America can’t live without: a device that stirs a pot of soup, helping a cook to be more productive in the kitchen.

The sixth-grader’s design is the result of an intensive two-week summer program called the Middle School Innovators Academy, held in the College of Design. Six pre-teens worked with industrial design professors and graduate students to conceive, prototype and develop presentations about their new products – everything from playground equipment to computer mice to a device for walking on water.

Critical Skills for the Inventor

The young inventors learned about patent searches, how to create design sketches, 2D and 3D computer modeling, and – perhaps most difficult of all – how to accept constructive criticism and make necessary changes to their designs.

It seemed a tall order for these six, who were chosen from a pool of 40 sixth-graders at Centennial Campus Middle School. The larger group had spent much of the spring semester maintaining “design notebooks” with their ideas for inventions.

“We want to create a passion for innovation in our public schools,” said Percy Hooper, professor of industrial design and co-director of the program. “We want to give the students a chance to apply design thinking to other challenges in their educational careers.”

David Brain explains his prototype during a summer program for young inventors in the College of Design.

Making the Sale

On the final day of the program, the students dressed in business attire and made formal presentations about their projects to their families.

“I like the concept of figuring out how you can make an easier life for others,” said participant Garrett Hess. Before they created their designs, students first had to identify a need, or market, for their product.

The program is badly needed, said Bryan Covington, a graduate student who helped direct the youngsters.

“I didn’t even know what industrial design was when I was this age,” he said. “I was just drawing planes and tanks in math class.”

Pilot Program a Collaboration

The pilot project was created through a collaboration between NC State and East Carolina University, which provided funding through its Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development. ECU offered the program to students at Hope Middle School in Greenville.

Hooper said the program was a success at both universities and hopes to get funding to double the size of the project next summer.

“Will a line of new products appear on the store shelves as a result of the Middle School Innovators Academy?” Hooper asked. “With funding, many things are possible. What they have produced is comparable to what products on the way to manufacturing go through.”

Brain’s ultimate goal? A hover-craft that uses a magnetic field to stay airborne.

“I’m a dreamer,” he said. “I dream a lot.”

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Responses (3 Comments)

  • Percy Hooper

    Wonderful, Eric!

    You are a true professional, and you make us look GOOD!!!


  • Mark A.

    It is great to see children encouraged to express themselves in this way.

  • Melody

    I love the whole concept of this program. The best way to learn is to teach. I would love for this kind of program to be available to my homeschool co-op. We have 140 this year and our core class right now is Inventors/ Inventions. Can you help us too?

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