Students from Natick High School and Newton North High School traveled to today’s White House Science Fair to show their Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam projects to President Barack Obama. The students were among hundreds of others from around the country selected to participate in the event, which recognizes winners from a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions.
The White House Science Fair fulfills a commitment Obama made at the launch of his Educate to Innovate campaign in November 2009 — to inspire boys and girls to excel in math and science. The president noted at the start of this program, “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”
President Obama poses for a photo with Karen Fan and Felege Gebru, along with their pedestrian crossing signal as he toured the 2014 White House Science Fair exhibits in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
The students from Natick and Newton North were honored for their achievements as 2012-2013 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant recipients from the Lemelson-MIT Program. The InvenTeam initiative inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. InvenTeams are granted up to $10,000 each to conceptualize, design, and build technological solutions to real-world problems.
U.S. President Barack Obama poses with Olivia Van Amsterdam and Katelyn Sweeney, along with their rescue robot, as he hosts the 2014 White House Science Fair at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, May 27, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing
Katelyn Sweeney and Olivia Van Amsterdam represented the Natick High School InvenTeam. The team developed a remotely operated vehicle for ice-search and rescue-dive teams. The land vehicle will quickly traverse the ice and lower a submersible detection device, which will assist a dive team when searching for objects or bodies in dangerously cold waters, with temperatures of 33 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweeney and Van Amsterdam have been instrumental in the filing of a U.S. utility patent for their device.
Felege Gebru and Karen Cheuk-Wing Fan represented the Newton North High School InvenTeam. The team developed a pedestrian alert system to be used in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to alert crossing pedestrians of approaching vehicles, increasing pedestrian safety. Gebru shared his firsthand knowledge of the dangers that pedestrians encounter in his home country of Ethiopia, and the InvenTeam has partnered with a sister school in Ethiopia to inform its understanding of the problem and guide the design.
“An invitation to the White House Science Fair is an incredible honor for these students,” said Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s invention education officer, who oversees the national InvenTeam initiative. “Katelyn, Olivia, Felege, and Karen exemplify the qualities we look for in our InvenTeams because of their passion for invention and devotion to inspiring other youth. These students have successfully blended their minds-on knowledge with their hands-on skills, and show what is possible when rigorous academics are blended with relevant career and technical education.”
Katelyn Sweeney is a senior at Natick High School and enjoys engaging with youth at the MIT Museum, talking about the fun of invention. In addition to InvenTeams, Sweeney is a member of Business Professionals of America. She seeks to help younger girls envision themselves as engineers and helped establish an all-girls robotics team at Natick High School with Van Amsterdam. She is also a counselor at the Natick High School robotics camp for middle school girls and boys. Sweeney will attend MIT in the fall.
Olivia Van Amsterdam is a junior at Natick High School and represented the Lemelson-MIT Program and her InvenTeam at the Massachusetts STEM Summit last fall. In addition to leading the InvenTeam, Van Amsterdam is the captain of a coed robotics team and a member of Business Professionals of America. Van Amsterdam is a counselor at the Natick High School robotics camp for middle school girls and boys. She also volunteers teaching robotics to Girl Scouts, and has participated in the U.S. Army Leadership program at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center.
Felege Gebru moved to the United States with his family from Ethiopia. He was a star student at Newton North High School, excelling in his Advanced Placement classes while being involved with the design department, student government, and football. He is currently focusing his studies on computer science and visual arts at Brown University.
Karen Cheuk-Wing Fan is a senior at Newton North High School and spends her spare time volunteering with the Greater Boston Chinese Culture Association and the Chinese Progressive Association, where she organized the effort to build a library in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. Fan is a leader on the InvenTeam, and was recently selected to represent her teammates at a presentation to Newton Mayor Setti Warren and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.). She will attend MIT in the fall.