Tulane partners with New Orleans high schoolers for invention workshop

A paper grocery sack, along with a red plastic bag and some colored string, is all Curry Cappel needed to create a different sort of backpack.

“This is what I would call an environmentally friendly backpack,” said Cappel, as he put each arm through the string to demonstrate how the backpack would fit.

“The plastic bag fits securely below the paper bag. So you take a walk and you were to come across something along the way that is recyclable, all you would have to do is pick up the item and put it in one of these bags.

“The plastic part would be used to collect items with sharp edges and the paper part would be used to store things like aluminum cans or paper cups. This is just a prototype, but maybe my idea could one day be manufactured.”

Cappel was one of 13 students from Isidore Newman, St. George’s Episcopal, Jesuit and St. Martin’s Episcopal schools who participated in the inaugural Innovation and Design Workshop held recently at St. Martin’s in Metairie.

The three-week workshop, held in partnership with the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, focused on the fundamentals of innovation and product design.

Each day, the students collaborated on a variety of design ideas, pitched the idea, studied the impact the product would have and then designed the product.

Director Garrett Mason said the workshop was adapted from the Stanford Design School.

“One of the goals of this workshop was to get the students to think harder about how things are made and encourage each of them to come up with their own ideas and designs,” Mason said. “Once they completed their design, the next step was to convince others why it could be useful to the consumer.”

Working with Mason were Lizy Freudmann and Jerica Kelley, two Tulane MBA graduates; engineers Steve Caine and Heidi Gremillion; Tulane business student Thomas Altman; Ray Scioneaux, an upper school science teacher at St. Martin’s who has worked in design; Keith Stanton, a middle school math teacher at St. Martin’s; Kevin Quinet, a Tulane undergraduate; and Ralph Maurer, the executive director of the Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship at the A.B. Freeman School.

One discussion centered on how Starbucks changed the way coffee is consumed around the world, Maurer said.

“The developers of Starbucks just didn’t decide to build a coffee house and start serving coffee,” he said. “It began with an idea and a design with people from all backgrounds collaborating. And that was one of the things emphasized in this workshop — people working together as a group from various fields of knowledge, from multiple disciplines.”

Mason recently joined the St. Martin’s faculty and will serve as the school’s director of Innovation and Design. When the 2013-14 academic year begins in August, the school library will incorporate a space called the Idea Lab, overseen by Mason.

Merry Sorrells is the head of school at St. Martin’s. “I’ve talked to several CEOs and I asked all of them what are the qualities they look for when hiring new employees,” Sorrells said. “And they all said they look for people who know how to solve problems and how to work collaboratively on projects. So we feel that one of the best ways to prepare our students for the future — for college and for the workforce — is to move toward an innovative and design mentality. And that is what the Idea Lab is all about.”

The lab will be used across the curriculum by teachers and students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grades as well as staff, parents and alumni, Sorrells said. She added that experts in various fields such as engineering, technology, service learning and the arts will also play key roles in the lab’s success, serving as “mentors to our students.”

“It (the lab) is going to be a place where everyone — students, teachers, staff and experts in their fields — can toss around ideas,” Sorrells said. “It will be a place where everyone will work together sharing, learning, creating and solving problems not individually but collaboratively.”

The final designs from the three-week workshop included a conservation city designed around the use of shared, sustainable resources; a customized shower with a touch screen to regulate flow and temperature; and a recycling bin in the shape of an alligator’s head.

“I was inspired and encouraged by the students’ enthusiasm and creativity throughout the workshop,” Mason said. “They came up with some truly wild and exciting ideas.”