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Gates Invention & Innovation Program

Budding Inventors Thrive at Graland

The aisles were crowded as adults of every age and children of every size made their way through the Fieldhouse at Graland Country Day School on March 7. They were there to see Middle School students describe their inventions and innovative ideas during the annual Gates Invention and Innovation Expo.
Gates Program: A Journey of Discovery
The expo and accompanying competition mark the end of a creative journey for students, who worked to identify a problem, and then research, design and build a functioning invention to solve it. Students tackled issues such as lost remote controls, uncomfortable helmets, canine first aid and icy skis this year. There were 59 inventions and 90 students who competed in pairs or individually.

Along the way, students grew both older and wiser. Besides allowing students to apply academic knowledge, they learned a few life lessons as well. Eighth grader Hayden Bartholomew was so excited to get started on her invention, The Clothes Heater/Steamer, that she ordered the wrong material. She quickly learned the right pieces make a big difference.

“I should have done more research before I started,” she admitted. “The fabric was the wrong color and size, and I lost time trying to make it work. I would tell others to be thorough and careful, and to think things through.”

Gates Expo: Inventors Impress
By the time the expo rolled around, students like Hayden had the bugs worked out and could confidently share their ideas to judges, parents, students and other guests.

“This is absolutely fantastic,” said Ed Zimmerman, an engineer and Graland alumnus from the class of 1940 who visited the expo to support neighborhood children. Coincidentally, Ed was also a classmate of the program’s namesake benefactor, Charles C. Gates (class of 1934).

“There are so many great ideas, and the students are very knowledgeable about their inventions,” he said.
In fact, the ability to communicate their ideas is one way the judges determine the top inventors in the competition. Other considerations include functionality, creativity and marketability of the product.

The expo was not without a few hiccups. Matthew Nekritz, a fifth grader in his first Gates competition, saw his invention break just before a judge approached to check out The Expandula, a cooking utensil with an extended handle and assorted attachments. “Luckily, I was able to fix it with duct tape,” Matthew said.

At the expo, parent Farah Beheshti visited her sixth grader, Lily Rose Bahrabadi, and several other students’ displays before concluding, “I’m very impressed. My daughter likes to design and create, and as long as the Gates Program is here she will keep coming back. I look forward to it every year.”

By the end of the afternoon, judges had made their rounds before deciding the finalists. These 19 students were notified in the evening and scheduled to give more thorough presentations to a room full of judges, classmates, teachers and parents Friday morning.

Finalists Make Second Pitch
To get the excitement started and to calm some jitters, Diane Gates ‘69 Wallach offered words of encouragement to the student inventors on deck to present.

“I love the new tagline: ‘Tinker, create, innovate,’” she said, before sharing a childhood memory about helping her dad and brothers build a car in their garage. “What I learned from my dad – who was an oil and gas man – is that sometimes you get a ‘dry well,’ so you keep trying until you get a ‘wet well.’ Keep creating, keep tinkering and keep innovating. Good luck!”

First up was Sophie Goldberg, Grade 5, who confidently shared a slide presentation while discussing her idea (The Bi-Dry), her invention challenges and her solutions. Beyond her years, she was poised and articulate in answering the judges’ follow up questions.

“The energy level gets higher every year,” commented Gates judge John Zimmerman, the chief executive officer of Tomkins Limited. “Seeing how the kids step up to the occasion shows why Graland has such a great reputation. There’s such a passion and commitment by Graland and the Gates family, and I can’t say enough about the faculty.”

After all the students had a chance to describe and pitch their product ideas to the judges, the four executives sequestered themselves away to deliberate, discuss and decide the winners. At 2:20 p.m. the entire school gathered for the awards announcement while holding its collective breath in anticipation.

Inventors Honored with Prizes, Patent Nods
You could have heard a pin drop as Gates program co-director Di Nestel shared the amazing story of a 13-year-old African boy who, without the benefit of any formal education, devised a product for scaring lions away from his family’s sheep herd. Di likened him to our own Gates inventors, who also see problems and tackle them with perseverance and ingenuity.

Finally, the moment had arrived to announce the winning inventions. For the Grades 5/6 division, here are the results.
  • 1st place* – Ellie Bain and Lena Shneck for "The Lean-on-Me"
  • 2nd place** – Lily Fox and Cailey Karshmer for "The All Charian"
  • 3rd place – Sophie Goldberg for "The Bi-Dry"
  • Honorable Mention – Hallie Abrams and Alex Mayer for "Helping Hand"
In the Grades 7/8 division, the winners are:
  • 1st place (tie)** – Patrick Berzins and Chase Street for "Mouth Guard Guard" and Allie Goldblatt for "Airplane Amigo"
  • 3rd place – Sam Cohen for "Bike Bot"
  • Honorable Mention – Lila Arnold and Mathilda Wolf for "Shower Brush"
  • Honorable Mention – Beau Benson for "Triangle Brush"
Ellie Bain and Lena Schneck were the only inventors to earn a patent nod from the judges indicating the product has patent and mass marketing potential. Their idea for a device that offers a spot to rest while hiking will receive additional support and funding to pursue product development and a U.S. patent. Several inventions also earned provisional patent nods to fund further research. All inventors received a small cash stipend for their effort while winners received prizes ranging from $200 to $500.

In the end, there were plenty of cheers and a few tears as the Gates program closed another successful year of inspiring creativity and critical thinking. Until next time, keep inventing!

* Patent Nod
** Provisional Patent Nod

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.