Student inventors offer advice after building “Desk Express”

Last school year, two central Ohio boys came up with an idea to help disabled students get around school more easily. They called their invention the Desk Express, and their idea – fashioned into a small-scale prototype – has garnered awards from their school and in a statewide competition.

The boys, Jack Monahan and Zach Rogers, are both seventh-graders at Heritage Middle School in the Westerville City School District.

They recently traveled to Dearborn, Michigan for the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurship Expo. Jack and Zach were two of the 65 Ohio students who advanced to the national event, out of 507 advancing students. In total, more than 10,000 students participated in the program this year.

After they presented in Columbus, Jack and Zach shared with us their creative process and offered advice to other student inventors. Their edited answers to our questions follow:

Q: Tell us about yourselves: where you live, your families and your interests.

Jack: I live in Westerville with my parents and younger sister. I like to play hockey and video games.

Zach: I live in Westerville in a family of six (me, my dad, my mom and my three cats). I was a starter on the Heritage seventh-grade basketball team, and I’ve studied piano for about seven years and play in a jazz band. I also ran cross country last fall. Two of my favorite things to do are following the NBA and hanging with my friends. TV shows that I really like are Frasier, Lost, Seinfeld, Heroes and Merlin. And I love listening to jazz, pop, rap and soundtrack music.

Q: Now, tell us about the Desk Express: What is it, and how did you get your idea for it?

Jack: The Desk Express is a powered desk that can drive you and your stuff to class. Disabled veterans and other disabled people can use it in everyday life, too.

We came up with this idea for a class project (last school year). We were thinking about problems we were having as sixth-graders and what hadn’t been invented to address those problems. We thought about people being injured and not being able to carry their stuff to class. The Desk Express could also replace lockers, which are expensive, and provide flexible seating options in the classroom.

Zach: The Desk Express has a work surface in front and a compartment behind the desk for a backpack and the supplies you need for the day, while making it convenient to reach them whenever you want them. It drives at a slow speed, so you won’t bump into things. It helps make your day easier. Overall, it’s a great thing for people who are hurt or could use help getting around.

Q: How did you go about creating it? Did you have help?

Jack: We started out taking the top off of a remote-control car. Then we cut wood to the appropriate size to fit on the car base. We had help from my dad. He helped us come up with a way to fold poster board into a desk, a chair and a bin. We attached these to the wood base.

Zach: Jack’s dad helped out with the design. My mom helped with organizing the plan’s paperwork. But we had no help other than that.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome those challenges?

Jack: At first, we didn’t know how we would build it. We talked to my dad, and he gave us some ideas. He helped us get the supplies we needed and make the pieces.

Zach: We had to reshape some of the parts of the Desk Express and had to stick to our plans. We also had to attach and detach certain objects on the prototype to make it better. We were persistent and stayed focused and faced those challenges over time.

Q: What have you learned from this experience?

Jack: I have learned that making an invention is a lot harder to do than we thought. It takes a lot of time, and finding the materials and making the prototype were difficult to figure out sometimes.

Zach: I personally learned that good teamwork is something that’s very valuable, and when you put enough hard work into what you want to achieve, anything is possible. A quote that I like to read to keep myself going is:

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele, soccer star.

I feel like Jack and I achieved what that quote says, and we can achieve it again for Nationals.

Q: What competitions have you entered with this invention, and what awards have you won? Will you be going on to a next level of competition?

Zach: Jack and I came in fifth place in Heritage Middle School’s Invention Convention competition in spring 2018. Because of that, we advanced to the 2018 Ohio Invention Convention & Entrepreneurship Competition at the Ohio State Fair, where we were awarded the Honda Transportation/Financial Infrastructure Award.

Now we are headed to the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurship Expo in Dearborn, Michigan, which will take place at the end of May 2019.

Q: Do you have any other ideas for inventions?

Jack: We have a lot of ideas for improvements (to the Desk Express). Some of my ideas are to add an automatic breaking system and a backup camera. We are also thinking about adding an automatic shutoff so teachers can shut the desks off to prevent distractions.

Zach: I get ideas from time to time (for other inventions). I had one that involves how to manage trash in the car. And there are other ones. But I’m not working on anything specific right now.

Q: From this experience, what would you tell other young people who have an invention idea but don’t know how to go about making it a reality?

Jack: I would tell those kids to ask a lot of questions of the grown-ups around them. Try to find people who would have an idea of how to help you – someone with background knowledge of what you are thinking about.

Zach: I would just say to keep your head up and something will happen to you eventually. You just have to have patience and determination. If you don’t know what to do, look for inspiration. Ideas come to me when I’m watching TV or just going through daily life.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about this experience?

Jack: This experience has been a lot of fun. If something doesn’t work out at first, don’t panic or get mad; just try something else. If you aren’t having fun, you won’t like what you are creating, so make sure you have fun.

Zach: Over time, if you put in effort and are able to relax and expand your mind, you’ll be very successful. Also, never give up, no matter how many attempts it takes you, if that’s what you truly want. Like the famous Mark Twain quote: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”


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