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The City Journals

JPREP students’ inventions solve problems with engineering principles

Sep 15, 2021 01:36PM ● By Jet Burnham

JPREP students competed in the PREP National 4th Year Scholars Symposium. Pictured: Kal El Thomas, Kendall Denos, Kevin Aguilera, Anna Fotheringham, Salvador Reynaga. Front row: instructor Rene Salcedo. (Stacy Pierce/JPREP)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

As a runner, sophomore Anna Fotheringham wanted a tool to help analyze her stride and prevent impact injuries. So, she invented one.

“I am creating an insole that has pressure sensors on it that you can put inside your shoes,” said Fotheringham in her project statement. “It will track where the most pressure is being distributed throughout your foot while walking/running. This will help prevent injury and will help runners find the correct stride, step, and shoes for them.” 

Fotheringham is a student in the Jordan Prefreshman Engineering Program, known as JPREP. For six weeks each summer, for the last four years, she’s taken classes in problem-solving, logic, engineering, electronics and computer science, which have given her the skills and confidence to develop her idea into a design and prototype. 

Fotheringham took second place in the PREP National 4th Year Scholars Symposium this summer with her Bottom Line-Ultimate Foot Analyzer Insole. All the fourth-year JPREP students developed capstone projects this summer for the symposium that impressed JPREP coordinator Stacy Pierce.

“Our projects were ideas that our students came up with to solve problems in their own lives or the lives of those they care about,” Pierce said. “That, in a nutshell, is what Jordan PREP is. It is a program that teaches students to look at the world as a place with problems that can be solved by the Jordan PREP family. Coming up with unique capstones is time consuming, challenging and extremely intimidating. Jordan PREP gives them the belief system and confidence that they can solve hard problems.”

The two other teams that competed nationally were Kevin Aguilera and Salvador Reynaga, and Kendall Denos and Kal El Thomas.

Aguilera and Reynaga wanted to make nano drift car kits, which cost $100–$1,000, more accessible to all kids, so they reverse engineered matchbox and remote-control cars to develop an affordable drift car STEM kit.

Denos and Thomas, both wrestlers, developed a website for wrestlers and their coaches to track, compare and increase the agility, strength and endurance of wrestlers.

Other student projects included a mental illness resource app specifically for young Latino students, shoulder pads that protect female football players’ chests and a hearing device that turns down the volume of loud sounds for people who are sound sensitive and experience anxiety in loud environments.

Daira Camacho and McKayah Patton worked together to develop a thermoelectric generator that converts body heat produced during a workout into a portable electric charger. Their project idea came from brainstorming worldwide problems.

“There are lots of problems with energy and energy consumption and not having renewable energy, so we thought, ‘What if we turn human heat energy into electrical energy?’” Camacho said.

Camacho said the skills they’ve learned in JPREP classes helped them develop their idea.

“Engineering really taught us building processes and how to think things through,” she said.

Besides being extra prepared to compete in school STEM Fair competitions, JPREP students are prepared to succeed academically throughout their school experience.

Sophomore Alannah Johnson said her participation in JPREP has made her more confident and focused on her classes so that her grades and attitude about school have improved.

Rene Salcedo is the fourth-year teacher at JPREP and has watched as students learn life skills such as communication, problem-solving, independence, grit, resilience, growth mindset and confidence.

“These students go way beyond their comfort zones,” Salcedo said. “They are future leaders; they really are bright students.”

Through weekly field trips and guest speakers every other day, JPREP students are exposed to a variety of people who work in a variety of industries. All of the JPREP teachers and teacher’s aides are either college students or college graduates and represent various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, providing students with powerful role models.

“I think it really helps the students, just being exposed to the people who are in the field of STEM, or even college students,” Salcedo said. “They see, ‘That's my future; there's no doubt that college is an option. I can see myself being just like them.’”

As an electrical engineering student at Weber State University and a Latino who grew up in a low-income family, Salcedo enjoys providing a role model to JPREP students who have a similar background.

“I think sometimes people don't realize how powerful it is to just tell a young person, ‘Hey, I believe in you,’” Salcedo said. “And just those little words can really push them forward.” 

Salcedo said there is a drop in STEM interest that occurs among minority and low-income students during their high school years. PREP programs, of which there are several nationwide, encourage students to become self-learners and take ownership of their academic success. The outcome, Salcedo said, is that more PREP students who are from low-income backgrounds, minority groups or are girls continue on to earn college degrees and enter STEM industries. 

“The purpose of PREP is to really just get them really confident in being uncomfortable—having grit, resilience and then give them the confidence that they can survive in any field,” Salcedo said. “Obviously we will always push the STEM field, but we encourage our students to be great in any field.”

Pierce sets high expectations for JPREP students and encourages them every step of the way. She has been able to expand the program from three years to six years to support the students from the summer before seventh grade through their senior year. She is confident that the students will do great things with the skills and confidence they gain in the program.

“These students will change our world, mark my words,” she said.