African American high school student wins national technology competition e3 Civic High takes top honors at Project Invent Demo Day

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By Jen Coburn – Contributing Writer

Cheilon Deas was part of a four-student team e3 Civic High that recently won first place at Project Invent Demo Day, a national technology pitchfest that aims to encourage young people to develop products for social good. The local team – also composed of Angelica Torres, Uriel Torres, and Christina A. – created the Infinity Clip, a compact circular GPS tracker for blind and visually impaired people.

“The device uses technology to determine the exact location a person is, and help them navigate their way to their next destination,” explains e3 Civic High Internship & Workforce Coordinator and Senior Design Thinking Lead, Melissa Woods, who advised students that entered the competition. “The scholars were asked to identify a community need, seek input from end-users, research the current market and competition, refine their product, and develop a prototype,” she says. “ Visually impaired individuals told our scholars that the Infinity Clip is both useful and unique.”

When the academic year began, the plan was to take the scholars to Silicon Valley for the pitch fest. With the advent of COVID-19 and distance learning, Project Invent switched gears and hosted the competition via Zoom. “Scholars at e3 Civic High have been using multiple technology platforms for research and meetings for the last several years, so they did not miss a beat,” says Dr. Cheryl Ward, CEO of e3 Civic High. “They were ready to present to the IBM-sponsored panelists and made an impressive case for their product.”

The students won a $2,500 investment in the further development of the Infinity Clip. The funding will also allow the young people to apply for a patent.

“More than one-quarter of the U.S. population is visually impaired or legally blind,” says Woods. “Our research shows that 16.5% of those people have annual incomes less than $75,000, and 12.9% are living at or below the federal poverty line. That’s why it was so important for the students to develop a product that will be accessible to people at every income level. They expect the retail price of the Infinity Clip to be less than $100.”

“Project Invent was a great experience to have a virtual interaction with other students, mentors, professionals, community members, and families,”says Deas. “Personally, I’m not good at speaking amongst big crowds of people but the fact that I gave it a try and succeeded really meant a lot to me physically and mentally.”    

Dr. Ward notes that entering competitions like Project Invent Demo Day is part of the culture at e3 Civic High.  “We keep an eye on innovation in industry, the impact of artificial intelligence and virtual reality and their influence on education,” she says. “We seek to understand, to the extent possible, the workforce of 2030 and ensure that we are not preparing kids to graduate in 2020, but to be a successful part of the workforce in 2030, to prepare students for a world that we cannot yet imagine.”
Recently, the school hosted its annual Exhibition of Learning where all scholars had the opportunity to showcase their work and share in the learning that has taken place through their Design Thinking projects.

Design Thinking is a project-based process in which scholars grapple with complex issues by developing a challenge question or essential question that they work to solve as they move through five phases: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution.

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