By Sharon RushenMarch 24, 2008
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. - The milk mustache ad campaign may be in trouble as two third-graders have created a more colorful alternative with their home-made Explosive Grenade Energy Drink. Like their peers, the young inventors sporting the blue-stained mustaches, had created a product for the annual S.I.T.E. Competition held Feb. 29 in West Long Branch.
The once blue and white-themed elementary gymnasium was reminiscent of a carnival, as colorful projects and posters hid the wooden floors. The work of 50 young inventors, from Betty McElmon School and Frank Antonides Middle School, was displayed as students waited for judges to critique their work.
Soldiers, engineers and other members of Fort Monmouth's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center spent the afternoon evaluating the student inventions for the annual Student Invention Through Education Competition.
Judges started their day by having a secluded view of the 30 projects which were set up in the elementary gymnasium. Most displays featured a prototype of the invention with a backdrop of a tri-fold poster decorated with markered words or printed text and photos.
The inventors could work solo or with a partner. As part of the project requirements, students had to keep a log of their work. The black-and-white marbled, notebooks were filled with receipts, hand-drawn charts and daily entries.
After the initial walk-through judges went to the media center and separated themselves into three groups of four to begin critiquing the entries from each classification: kindergarten through fourth-grade, fifth and sixth-grade and seventh and eighth-grade.
The judges gathered around rectangular tables and sorted through their list of questions and grading sheets as they listened to oral presentations, read through invention logs and evaluated the overall execution.
One by one, the students filtered in to the judging area to set their projects up while their peers waited eagerly in the hallway.
While many of the middle school students had participated in the competition in past years, the younger students were generally shy or nervous when talking to the judges.
However, Anna Greenberg, first-grade inventor of the "Pawsome House," was an exception to the rule.
"I'm not nervous. I won last year too," she said.
In 2007, Anna won first place as a kindergartner by creating a musical board game to help with memorization. This year's invention was a cat jungle created to occupy her playful kittens.
The kindergarten through fourth-grade judges were caught smiling throughout the day as the younger students were far more candid than their elders. Eight-year-olds, Emma Ogiensky and Alea Pinho, inventors of "Fan-See," proudly flaunted their colorful invention: a way to hide the industrial look of table fans while releasing various scents into a room. To do so, the girls made fabric fan-blade covers inlayed with scented powder.
"We had to sew and find fabric," Pinho said. "My friend said it smells better than Febreeze."
The judges were impressed with the enthusiasm and hard work of the young students.
"It surprised me, the ingenuity of a lot of the kids and just the ideas of improving things and new ideas that we saw," said Sgt. Melanie Reese.
Reese, an active-duty Soldier at Fort Monmouth, once studied Elementary Education and was more than happy to volunteer at the competition.
"I love working with kids. It's a way for me to have a connection with kids something that I don't get to do a lot," Reese said. "I just love to be in a school atmosphere because it brings you back to more innocent times."
Among the seventh and eighth-grade projects Reese helped critique the projects were two ideas that improved upon objects used in everyday life: a lighted stop sign and the Solar Panel Plus.
The Solar Panel Plus, which won first place in the seventh and eighth-grade category, was developed by Matt Livingston and Rich Kelly as a way to cut solar-panel-energy costs by using mirrors in place of the panels.
"I think it's a great idea. With some tweaking here and there, it would definitely be used in the future," Reese said.
CERDEC has provided judges for the past five years, and while this was Reese's first time judging, many of the CERDEC judges had participated in the past. CERDEC and S.I.T.E. Competition Coordinator, John Doherty, has coordinated the event since 2002.
Doherty, a sixth-grade Social Studies teacher at Frank Antonides Middle School, enjoys the four-month-long process of the competition in which he guides the students through the beginning stages of brainstorming up until the final presentation.
"They all come up with these great ideas, and in the beginning, you aren't sure what to think," Doherty said, "but in the end, they put a lot of effort into their projects."
Student participants begin the process in November and check in with Doherty after winter break. Then they meet with him one final time before the competition.
To further help the students with their interpersonal skills, Betty McElmon School has an open house for the S.I.T.E. participants the night before the competition. Friends, family members and members of the Board of Education all attended this year's open house.
"I like the open house the night before," Doherty said. "The parents are all there, and the kids aren't really nervous because they don't have to talk to the judges; they can just talk to their friends and family."
Doherty's support with the participants will carry over through April as the four first-place winners will compete in a state-wide S.I.T.E. Competition in Northern New Jersey.