Alert “06880” reader Nico Eisenberger hesitated to write.
“There are plenty of kids’ achievements to celebrate here in Westport in our highly competitive, educated, and uber-connected town (many of them much, much more noteworthy, some of them maybe a bit too competitive at times),” he said.
Yet, he added:
I’ve just returned from the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurs’ Exposition at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan with my daughter Penelope. She is 10, and attends Greens Farms Elementary School.
She and Olivia Cohn were selected as national finalists in this international competition for inventors.
They both walked away with medals. Olivia took first for all 4th graders, and also received the “I See Her Invent” award from CA Technologies for her “Happy Ride” solution for rear seat car sickness.
Penelope took first in the “Invent Her Future Award” from the Society of Women Engineers for her “Retainer Container,” a tabletop retainer case disguised as an ordinary drinking glass coaster.
That means our Westport 4th graders were 2 of only 50 kids to receive national awards out of 108,000 inventor participants, representing 7 countries.
Penelope Eisenberger and Olivia Cohn, proudly wear their medals.
But that’s not what I am writing about.
Of the many wonderful things that came out of this experience, what stands out the most is the amount of support we all experienced from folks in Westport and neighboring towns.
Penelope’s retainer container, 3D-printed by Ethan Klein.
Beyond the countless teachers, fellow students, family members, local crafts people, shopkeepers and neighbors who helped both Olivia and Penelope develop and refine their invention (for no money in almost every instance), we also had some heartwarming competitor-to-competitor collaboration as well.
Penelope’s invention was significantly impacted by meeting Fairfield 9th grader, 3D printing expert and budding entrepreneur Ethan Klein at Westport’s Maker’s Fair this spring.
He showed her how to print her Retainer Container. Together they refined its shape and design.
He was so infected by her excitement about the invention process that he decided to compete in the contest himself. He too was selected as a national finalist, and won 2 prestigious awards.
Ethan Klein and Penelope Eisenberger
We also met a mother and daughter (Olivia Taylor) from Easton, who presented in the booth next to us. When we discovered 5 minutes before judging began that her presentation materials were missing key required information, they pulled out glue, cardboard and paper, and fixed her up a solution right there.
In addition, Neil Cohn and his family helped show us the way to secure a patent for Penelope’s invention. We helped each other get to the national convention. There the girls were inseparable companions, as they navigated their way with 450 other smart and creative finalists of all shapes, sizes and ages.
This is all little stuff — one might even say stuff that should be ordinary human, neighborly decency. And it should.
But it stood out, at least for me, in our time of increasing atomization of communities, addiction to devices, political division, and get-ahead-at-all-cost-ism, that it was folks from Westport and neighboring towns who stood up when the need arose, and made this experience so special.