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Mother, Wanda Ray, beams with pride about her daughter’s invention and the impact it had on her confidence. 

As a kid, Wanda played with dollhouses and Barbies. She doesn’t recall doing any inventing when growing up. Podcast host, Jeremy Shorr, reminds Ray that creative play is a very powerful form of invention. 

Ray’s daughter Naomi, during her junior year, with a teammate, developed an invention to help prevent hot car deaths for pets, babies and infants. They hoped to reduce the unfortunate, rising number of deaths. 

The invention identified if there was weight in the backseat of a car. If the driver got out of the car and closed the door and the weight in the backseat didn’t change, the invention would send a signal to the driver by calling their cell phone several times. If the driver didn’t respond or answer the signal, the device would alert the police. 

The students were pretty excited about the invention. They realized how impactful it could be for the community. While the great majority of parents would not intentionally leave their pet or their child in a hot car – or leave them, period – we live in such a busy world today and sometimes mistakes happen. 

As a parent, Ray thought her daughter’s invention was “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” 

Other parents were also supportive of the student’s invention by helping with the design process and technology needs to bring the final idea to life.  

Invention sparked by a school workshop

Naomi and her peers invented this device in some type of school workshop led by their engineering teacher, Ms. Beth White. 

The whole project required a lot of sacrifice from the students. They would come to work on things after school and on the weekends for several months. 

Ray can’t remember a time during her high school years where she was that dedicated to learning and finishing a project. She believes that the time Naomi and her classmates put into the project is the evidence of how powerful invention can be in education. 

Giving kids the opportunity to solve real world challenges. 

The students were dedicated to the work because they were given an opportunity to solve a real problem in the world. They felt driven by the idea that their work could help save lives. This reality often made the invention project a priority for students amidst all the other homework assignments. 

A change in Naomi

The project helped her build more confidence. She received real feedback from Ms. White about the flaws in their invention so that they improve the model and get it to work. It was great practice to hone her confidence. 

As adults, we so often work on things day to day and never see how our work makes a difference. This project changed the student’s perspective in that they could directly see how their work could impact and change the world. 

Mentorship

Ms. White played an important mentor role for Naomi and her peers. This role supported students through the project, but also pushed the students to think about what was possible for them outside of the classroom and beyond high school. 

Naomi had another counselor at school as well that encouraged Naomi’s engagement in engineering as well. Ray reflects that those two mentors gave Naomi a lot of guidance at a critical moment in her life. 

Engineering at Stanford

Naomi is now in her junior year at Stanford. She is an engineering major and is looking to finish college strong. 

Ray says that Naomi is “still cranking it up.” For example, when her parents tried to take her out for her birthday during the week, Naomi politely asked if they could postpone to the weekend so she could finish a project she was working on. 

Naomi’s family and high school mentors are incredibly proud of her accomplishments and look forward to what is next for her.  

This summary was produced as part of the Invention Education: Portraits, Strategies, Starting Points podcast series. 

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice and the Lemelson Foundation have partnered to bring you this series of critical conversations on the importance of invention education.