Virginia Beach student entrepreneurs set out to rescue turtles, protect kids with allergies

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More than 200 students from 29 schools took part in this year's Maker Expo. From left: Lauren Bulleigh, Brendan Willette, Kayla Phu, and Cole Buchanan. (Mariah Pohl)
More than 200 students from 29 schools took part in this year’s Maker Expo. From left: Lauren Bulleigh, Brendan Willette, Kayla Phu, and Cole Buchanan of North Landing Elementary. (Mariah Pohl)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Virginia Beach students showcased their entrepreneurial and inventing skills Friday at the 3rd annual Maker Expo.

More than 200 elementary, middle, and high school students from surrounding public schools turned out to present projects that fulfilled the event’s 2017 theme: adaptive technology.

44 teams from 29 participating schools used 3D printers called MakerBots to create their products, according to STEM and entrepreneurship program specialist Stephanie S. Walters.

“Participating students have met after school once or twice a week for five months to develop their products and understand the entrepreneurship process,” she said. “Not everyone wants to be a scientist, but we hope by providing this opportunity more students will become interested in STEM fields.”

STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — has become an increasingly important area of study within primary education, according to director of technical career education Sarah Lockett.

“Expos like these are popping up all over the country,” she said. “They introduce kids to problem solving, and are a great way to build awareness for the kids about the career fields that are available to them.”

More than 200 students from 29 schools took part in this year's Maker Expo. (Mariah Pohl)
From left: K.J. Reynolds, Alya Bedawi, Antonio Muirnead, Kyndall Johnson, and River Tonn of Centerville Elementary school. (Mariah Pohl)

One student from North Landing Elementary school says his interest in technology was sparked through the program, and he hopes to consider working with 3D printers as he gets older.

“Ever since I met my teacher I have considered a career in STEM,” 4th grader Brendan Willette said of Becky Wallace, who leads the club. “I look forward to hopefully doing this in middle school.”

Willette and his three classmates developed a net-cutting fin cap to improve the wellbeing of sea turtles.

“The target audience is marine rescue centers. They will put it on the turtle and set it free into the ocean,” he said. “If the turtle gets caught in a fishing net, the spikes on the fin will help it cut itself out.”

The class made several sizes and colors of the triangular product, which took several tries to get right, according to 4th grader Lauren Bulleigh.

“It took eight prints,” she said. “It also took a long time to come up with our mission statement.”

In addition to assembling product expo boards, participating students designed customized packaging and short informercials for their inventions.

Students from Centerville Elementary developed an allergy stand that can be used to identify peers with severe food allergies. (Mariah Pohl)
Students from Centerville Elementary developed an allergy stand that can be used to identify peers with severe food allergies. (Mariah Pohl)

“Watching these students explore their ideas was incredible,” Centerville Elementary school teacher Randy Resek said of his 4th grade entrepreneurs.”There was a lot of trial and error during the process, but these kids worked very hard.”

Resek’s students were inspired by their classmate Kyndall, who has a peanut allergy, to develop an eight-inch stand that helps identify kids with allergies during lunch.

“We did some research, and found allergies are some of the most hidden disabilities,” 4th grader River Tonn said. “When you walk into a cafeteria, you can’t tell what allergy a kid has.”

To make it easier to identify someone who could suffer from an allergic reaction, the stand displays charms representing three common allergens: nuts, egg, and milk.

“It took 60 hours to make the set,” 4th grader Alya Bedawi said. “I like that we can use the 3D printer to make things that help people.”

According to Lockett, the Maker initiative not only promotes problem solving and collaboration among students, it also teaches young girls, like Bedawi, that they can pursue careers in STEM industries — which are often male-dominated, she said.

“When girls become involved in these programs at a young age, and stay engaged throughout high school, we see that trend continue as they become adults,” she said. “These sort of competitions let us start nurturing kids so that we can pass them off to higher-education partners, and businesses as employees. The community is really getting around what these kids are learning.”

Pohl may be reached at mariah@localvoicemedia.com