Young inventors at the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy (HVPA) at Ulster BOCES are learning how to develop innovative solutions to real-world problems with help from a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative.
HVPA’s InvenTeam, one of only eight nationwide to receive a Lemelson-MIT grant this year, is working to come up with a solution to a particularly challenging problem: how to find the tiny, disease-bearing ticks that often hide in the fur of pets. These hard-to-see pests can cause Lyme disease and other serious illnesses.
HVPA, which is located on the campus of SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, is based on the P-TECH model, a six-year pathway of study that allows students to develop workforce-readiness skills while earning an associate’s degree.
Since last summer, members of HVPA’s InvenTeam have been working to create a prototype for a special brush, equipped with heat-sensitive cameras, that could be used to scan pets for ticks. The device would take advantage of the fact that ticks are cold-blooded, and animals like dogs and cats are warm-blooded. If a user is brushing their pet, any “cold” area might indicate the presence of a tick.
The team, which is composed of Grade 9 students (known at HVPA as Chapter One young scholars), has been working with their teachers (called Lead Learners), as well as with a variety of mentors and technical advisors, including experts from the academic and business worlds. Among their mentors is Dr. Brian F. Leydet, an Assistant Professor in Environmental Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, an expert on Lyme Disease and ticks.
Team members recently participated in a “Mid-Grant Review” to report on their progress and to receive feedback from their mentors as well as from potential users. The February 24 event included slide shows, commentary, and updates given by members of the project’s various sub-teams, which are focusing on the following areas: research, product and design, coding, sustainability, communication, and finance.
During her introductory remarks, Lemelson-MIT Invention Education Officer Leigh Estabrooks summed up the Lemelson-MIT program’s philosophy, declaring, “Inventors are not born; inventors are made.” After the young scholars had given their individual progress reports, she said, “I thought it was a wonderful presentation, especially given that they are ninth graders and new to P-TECH and HVPA and new to invention.”
Another attendee, Linnea Masson, said she was impressed by the informative oral presentations as well as by HVPA’s hands-on approach to education. “I think it is an innovative, challenging, and collaborative way of learning,” she said. Masson’s son, Steve Masson, is a Lead Learner in English Language Arts at HVPA.
Discussing some of the comments the Product and Design team members had received after their presentation, young scholar Logan Manor commented, “We were told that we need to make our brush sustainable, so it won’t break and won’t hurt the animal.” Logan, who is from the Kingston City School District, said that two commenters had expressed concern that one particular type of brush, which was displayed on a table of prototype items, might be prone to breakage.
Reflecting on what she has learned so far by participating in the project, Gabriela Stokes, also from the Kingston City School District, said, “I was surprised to learn that about 50,000 Americans were infected with Lyme Disease in recent years.” In conducting her extensive research, she read numerous articles at the SUNY Ulster library and gleaned additional information by visiting various websites, especially the one maintained by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Talking about the tick-detection project, she said, “It’s a little complicated, but it’s fun that it’s complicated!”
According to Principal Learner Joseph Salamone (the principal at HVPA), the multi-faceted, year-long project is a natural outgrowth of the Ulster BOCES North Star Educational Commitments, which seek to nurture self-confidence, creativity, self-actualization, and community involvement. “We aim to help our scholars reach their full potential and to contribute to their community through continuous cycles of inquiry,” he said, noting that the proposed invention could help alleviate suffering in the Hudson Valley as well as in other communities that have been hard-hit by Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
To learn more about the HVPA InvenTeam, please visit https://lemelson.mit.edu/teams/hudson-valley-pathways-academy-inventeam.
- Hudson Valley Pathways Academy