By Eric Walters
Williamston Post staff writer
On March 27, the Williamston InvenTeam hosted an evening reception at Williamston High School. The event was a combination of updating the community on the team’s progress and plans, as well as a celebration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Held in the McGoff Auditorium at Williamston High School, the evening began with a meet and greet. Invitees, including Mayor Jim DeForest, Michigan State University Dean of Engineering Satish Udpa and MIT representative Justin Lai, were able to meet the team and learn about the O.R.C.A. system.
Team engineer, and Williamston High senior, Jacob Brandon said that he spoke to a few people who gave him good advice, including Dennis Nash from MIT Entrepreneurship Forum, who gave Brandon a list of people to contact if they decide to market the O.R.C.A. system.
The team described its mission, to successfully invent a viable rip-current alert system that could potentially be used in the Great Lakes, as well as its plans in the coming months. Computer engineer Spencer Ottarson said that the next steps involve waterproofing and testing. The team will first waterproof a separate buoy that it has purchased, and place it in Lake Michigan without internal electronics.
If that test goes well, the team will add the electronics and take the full buoy to the University of Michigan to test the system in a wave tank. Once that test is completed, the next step will be to take the full buoy to Lake Michigan. The team hopes to test a fully built buoy by mid- May. Michael Robinson, another team engineer, said that by EurekaFest in June, the goal is to have a working prototype that could sense a rip current.
After the team presented its invention and plans, MIT’s Invention Education Associate Justin Lai spoke about the Lemelson-MIT program and its lucrative awards for invention. He said he hopes the InvenTeam will promote a culture of innovation and invention in the Williamston community. He then spoke of ways to help with the team’s progress, including design critiques, opportunities for presentation of the invention, and financial support.
The theme of the night changed to a celebration of the reason that the Williamston InvenTeam exists, the Math and Science Academy at Williamston High School. Senior Katie Bollman spoke of her experience with the MSA, and how it changed the scope of her life.
“Growing up, my interests in a career varied widely, at different times I desired to be the state librarian, an inventor, an author, a scientist, and even a politician,” Bollman said. “And while I still maintain an interest in entering politics, I now plan to study economics and mathematics so that I can become a professor, and inspire others to do this in the same way that this program has inspired me.”
Steve Kersten and Jim Preston, two Williamston teachers, spoke after Bollman. They thanked MSA funders the Dart Foundation and Omega Farms. The Simmons family, owner of Omega Farms, was presented with a plaque recognizing its contribution. Preston also praised the community support.
“It’s great to see such community support for a buoy, and not something that involves a ball,” Preston said.
A video presentation from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow likened the team to other Michigan inventors such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Elijah McCoy. InvenTeam members also received a certificate of congressional recognition from the senator.
Bill Struck, the teacher advisor of the InvenTeam, closed out the evening. He spoke of the American education system.
“Today, the worry is how we compare to students from Japan, India and China. From what we’ve seen today we can tell all those doubters where to go,” said Struck. “Let them come to Williamston to meet our InvenTeam. We can all celebrate how they worked tirelessly through thick and thin . . . It’s hard to say where this will lead…perhaps it will even lead to Stockholm, to claim some Nobel gold.”