Team of local inventors in finals of national competition

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GARDNER, Kan. -- The great, prolific inventor Thomas Edison described genius as one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. He meant that great accomplishments depend much more on hard work than ingenuity. This week’s FOX 4 young achievers have plenty of both. And they soon will go the finals of a national competition for high school inventors whose creations help people with disabilities improve their lives.

With his young champions from Gardner Edgerton High School looking on proudly a man named Roy slowly but skillfully operates a device called CAPS, short for Counting and Packaging System. In his job arranged through Johnson County Developmental Supports Roy packages drywall screws and anchors but because of physical and mental challenges related to cerebral palsy, he has trouble doing it.

“We thought that was something we could as a team, tackle and build a device to help him out with his job,” said senior Ethan Eccles.

The teenagers crafted designs on paper and computer and ultimately combined two main concepts to come up with CAPS, a box featuring shelves for Roy’s screws and anchors, holes for him to count them into, a slide allowing them to drop into a hopper and a funnel to direct them into a package. And it worked for Roy, making him much more productive and independent.

“It just gives you warm feelings inside, that fuzzy feeling,” said freshman Samantha Marcotte. “You’re making someone’s life better, that doesn’t really affect you even though you created that, it’s helping them more than you.”

Designing and building CAPS for Roy has been a school-year-long project for the Gardner Edgerton team to take part in SourceAmerica Design Challenge. That’s an annual national engineering competition in which high school students create technology that assists adults with disabilities in their workplaces.

"This is amazing because this is not a class,” said GEHS teacher and team advisor Katie Stevenson. “They do all this on their own time after school.”

Stevenson and fellow teacher Larry Ward guide the team as advisors but they say the students really do all the work including writing a paper and a marketing plan, producing a video and doing a Power Point presentation for judging.

“So they did an awesome job collaborating with each other,” said Stevenson. CAPS has proven so successful for Roy in his work that the Gardner Edgerton team is one of five invited to suburban Washington, DC for the Design Challenge national finals.

“Ours improved Roy’s productivity by 40 percent and increased his independence,” said Ethan. “That’s one of the way’s the contest is judged.”

“It’s also very simple,” said Samantha. “It doesn’t have all these buttons and whistles and all this stuff.”

These bright, young inventors are carrying on a remarkable run of success for Gardner Edgerton High School in the SourceAmerica Design Challenge. Nine times teams from here have been in the national finals. And twice they’ve emerged as national champions and they’ve had several second place finishes.

“It’s a little scary at first,” said Samantha of the responsibility of holding up that tradition. “But then you grow. You become friends. It’s great, actually.”

Trophies and awards are nice perks but for this team the real reward is seeing what has happened for Roy.

“It’s what we live for,” said Ethan. “It just validates everything we’ve done. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

The national finals of SourceAmerica Design Challenge are in Arlington, Virginia. The finals competition and awards ceremony are a week from today. Teams from high schools in Maryland, Ohio, Indiana and Delaware will be there, too. We’ll keep you posted on the results. Meantime, you can see the video produced by the students on their project at this link.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.