A team of Gulfport High School students was one of just 14 nationwide to receive a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant aimed at encouraging students to identify a problem and solve it using technology.
The 14 students have spent months designing their idea: A power lift to help people with disabilities more easily and safely board boats.
The portable hydraulic lift would mount on standard dock pilings.
Now, using the grant, they will work to take their idea from concept to reality.
"It was a combination of excitement and 'Oh no, we really have to do it now," said Clint Brawley, the Gulfport engineering instructor in charge of the team, laughing. "With all the work these kids put in, it was a relief that the hard work paid off. We have a lot to do now."
The team is the only group from Mississippi to win the grant this year and just the second team from the state to ever be chosen.
Work on the project started in the spring. The students, a subset of an after-school robotics program, initially wanted to design a robot that would scour beaches looking for tarballs. But at a seminar, someone pitched a different idea.
"As soon as it was pitched to the kids, they jumped all over it," Brawley said. "Because this can help people with disabilities right now."
Throughout the summer and fall, the students spoke with wounded veterans, charter boat captains, the head of Gulfport's recreation department and the Gulfport harbor master. They also researched what was currently available and then created what they thought was a better design.
The Lemelson-MIT program agreed.
"High school students are proving that they can identify problems worth solving and develop impactful inventions," said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT program, in a press release. "This year's InvenTeams are addressing pressing societal needs and striving to solve problems they see in their communities and the world."
With the grant money, Brawley and the team will start putting the project together. The teams will showcase their projects in June.
The students involved were seniors Meredith Barnes, Peyton Bergin, Joseph Dobson, Alexander Hopkins, John Micheal Ladner, Brittani Legette and Tatianna Myers, and juniors Ashley Brock, Samuel Boggs, Connor Hobby, Hannah Ladner, Autumn Lopez, Anthony Piascik and Joahanna Vega.
"These kids want to make the world a better place," Brawley said. "This enabled them to do that."