Lessons were learned and fun was had by 14 students from Wallenpaupack Area High School, who can now call themselves “inventors.” Since November, when the students received a $9,600 grant from the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative and an additional $2,000 grant from PPL Electric, the students worked continuously, despite their weather roadblocks and other commitments to create a lake wave generator.

Now that their invention is complete and the team presented their generator at MIT’s Eureka Fest in June, a few of the students recently reminisced and spoke about what team member Paige Politewicz called an “experience of a lifetime.”

A project that began when one student brought a flashlight to class, that turns on by shaking it, has led the students to understand new fields of study and obtain incite about themselves and each other.

As the team worked, they learned that their initial idea for the generator was faulty, because their plan didn’t generate enough electricity. The team’s mentor and a Senior Engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Paul Fucile said the flashlight was problematic because it is shaken faster than the rate of waves. Since Fucile is in Massachusetts, the team held regular video conferences with him, with at least one where he constructed a model that demonstrated why the team’s idea wouldn’t work.

Now, the generator uses two very small sailboat motors that are attached to a metal arm, which generates the electricity. The light functions, explained Christopher Gibson because the motor rotates backwards, acting as a generator and so the team’s design uses the waves to rotate the motors in reverse.

Once the team understood how to make the circuits operate, Adam Haig said the project progressed. Building the device was easy, but Haig added that getting it to work was a challenge.

When the team’s original design didn't work, Rhiannon Bogart-Mandrik admitted that the team was scared because they weren’t sure what to do. There were points; the team agreed that they did not work well together, sometimes arguing over simple things. Overlooking the arguments, Haig said the team’s internal issues were really just, “productive chaos.”  

From the project, Haig said he learned how to fail. He explained that by failing, people are forced to try to fix the issue.

Bogart-Mandrik said she learned how to be more confident. Initially she was afraid to make mistakes and try new things for fear of messing up. But soon, she realized everyone makes mistakes.

Aside from learning how to work on a team better, Devin Distilli said he learned a lot about his teammates.

While Sarah Ricupero learned to weld wires together, even though she was on the financial team, which was cool because she had never done it before.

Although she considers herself to be shy, Politewicz said she learned how to talk to people because of the presentations.

Lemelson MIT, Fucile said isn’t concerned with students’ inventions solving the world’s problems, but rather “empowering students,” to find an issue and address it as a team. The team credits Fucile for helping them finish the generator so quickly and efficiently. Once the team understood the flaws with their original design, Bogart-Mandrik said the team was able to progress.

Every student agreed, a huge part of their success came from their teacher Gene Schultz who kept the team on track and stayed after school to work on the generator. There were times; Corine Peifer said Schultz helped them remain calm, when they were flustered with parts of the project, even teaching the team how to use power tools to build their generator.  

A teacher for 32 years, Schultz said the InvenTeam is one of the best projects of his career. A “fantastic learning experience,” for the students and himself, Schultz said he feels the team met Lemelson MIT’s expectations. This competition was different, he added because the challenge was getting to participate in the first place, by receiving the grant.

The students, Schultz said have talked about developing a patent, but he is not sure if the team will go in that direction because the students are moving on. This year, the team will work to polish and refine the generator since there are still questions, like how well it really works considering the generator has only been outdoors for a 48 hour period. But, he isn’t sure if it will ever be produced for the public.

Once the Wallenpaupack InvenTeam progressed, Fucile said they “took off exponentially.” It was evident however, how devoted each member was and with Sebastian Aparicio's continued dedication to making the circuit board work, that helped the team accomplish their goal. Aparicio's circuit board is so good, Fucile said, he would actually put the board in the ocean.

The team together, Fucile said excelled immensely, not just because of their generator but their presentation at Eurkea Fest was one of the finest. Presenting at MIT, Fucile warned the students that it was going to be the “big time.” But, he saw that the students understood that. The team’s enthusiasm, grew as their project developed and it was clear everyone was doing their part. An, “exemplary InvenTeam,” Fucile said he was amazed at the materials the team had for their presentation. An example, the team's dock appeared as though it was professionally made. The team’s overall presentation, Fucile said, “exceeded my wildest expectations.” Fucile commended the team for handling all of their responsibilities professionally and he noticed how the community really supported the team.

Even though the team probably learned things from Fucile, he said the team taught him things as well and it was a pleasure to help them. With the students' continuous readiness, Fucile said it was easy to work with such a team, especially since they always appeared to be in the best of attitudes and never seemed to want to give up. He added that the Wallenpaupack InvenTeam was a, “very strong team and I was glad to have the privilege to work with them.”