Wildcats in the News

Young inventors represent Tampa Bay at national convention

Cambria Pryor, a gifted 9-year-old home-schooled student from St. Petersburg, invented “Reminder Switch,” a colorful device to encourage and remind people to turn off their lights. Katrina Halpern, a Tampa sixth-grader, created Zip It, an affordable backpack to deter thefts.

Pryor and Halpern were among eight Tampa Bay students who traveled to Dearborn, MI, to participate in the third annual National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo. The event by the STEMIE Coalition, a nonprofit promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math instruction in kindergarten through 12th grade, was held at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation on June 1.

Tracy Zuluaga, STEMIE’s affiliate in Florida and executive director of the Valrico-based Bright Young Minds Coalition, called it a “landmark year” for the students, who exhibited “next to world innovators.”

“That’s never happened before,” she explains. “Many parents referred to it as a life-changing event.”

Pryor claimed first place among fourth-graders at the Florida Invention Convention in May, along with a ribbon for Best Research, earning her an invitation to the national competition. There was little time to prepare, but her grandmother Marianne Lazzara did some quick fundraising through her home business Dish-a-licious Kitchen, which sells desserts and Lazzara’s sauce and meatballs.

“I’m still making the food,” she reports after their return. “Some people just donated. They just wanted to contribute to a wonderful opportunity.”

Pryor came up with her project through the gifted program at Azalea Elementary, which she attends part-time as part of her curriculum. A school project on simple machines initially propelled her into the state competition.

She says she saw people forgetting to turn off the lights, so she came up with the idea. “It’s good for the electricity and for the Earth and it saves money,” she explains.

Along with attraction-getting colors, she’s added a pulley and wedge to help handicapped people in a wheelchair reach the light. She’s got three more ideas — and says she thinks she’ll be inventing for her “whole life.”

What does she like about inventing? “That I get to make different things and make the world a better place,” she says.

Halpern, a student at Academy at the Lakes in Land O’ Lakes who placed third in her grade level at state, developed a backpack that is inherently secure, says her father, Peter Halpern. Instead of relying on locks, the design features no zippers in accessible areas, restricting access even to recess pockets.

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