Friday, August 20, 2010

The Desk of the Future! A Journey to EurekaFest 2010 with Hopewell High School's InvenTeam

“Sitting through classes at Hopewell High School isn't exactly comfortable, especially if the student is taller than 4 feet 5 inches. The desks currently in use were patented in the late 1950s, and little has changed since.” (Markus Schmidt of

In an effort to improve the condition of student desks at Hopewell High School, an ambitious group of students, led by an innovative and dedicated teacher named Andrei Dacko, represented one of only 15 groups in the country to win an InvenTeam grant from the Lemelson-MIT Foundation to create and present a new product of their own invention at MIT’s EurekaFest in mid-June 2010.

In January 2009, Dacko, Hopewell High’s Engineering Technology instructor, asked his students if they were interested in inventing something. After getting a resounding, “Yes!” he told his then sophomore students about the InvenTeam grant program. From there, each student on the team was tasked with coming up with two to three invention ideas. Dacko explained, "In the end, we had over 30 ideas, from a doggy door alarm to a temperature controlled pillow." Eventually, the students chose the idea that would have the most positive impact on their school and fellow students. "All agreed that our current desk designs need to be redeveloped," Dacko stated.

One student explained, "Our current desk has so many problems it was easy to work on improvements." The sole female student on the team stated, "(The current desk) just looks really old, and (the support) bar makes it impossible to slide in from both sides." Another teammate explained, "Our first step was to take an original desk and then add other features to it.” The endless list inspired the students to come up with numerous ideas for the Desk of the Future.

Upon submitting their entry application, Hopewell High School was one of 312 initial applicants. Of those, only 64 actually completed the application after which only 32 were selected for the second round of applications. The Hopewell team and their idea for the Desk of the Future was ultimately chosen to make the final cut of just 15 schools across the country and to design and build a prototype of their invention to be presented at MIT’s EurekaFest in June 2010.

The new student desk, billed as an active-dynamic learning system designed to change the direction of education in the 21st century, proposes the possibility of several new features. All of these new features were decided upon based on surveys the InvenTeam sent to students, teachers, buyers, and custodians asking them what improvements they believed should be made to current desks. In order to build their prototype, the students actually built several different iterations; one with sheet metal, one with wood and tubing, one with aluminum, and another with PVC pipe. The students also brainstormed ideas to make the desk more ergonomic, user friendly, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective.

During the design phase, Kim Schoenadel, President & CEO of KSA Interiors contacted Andrei Dacko after reading an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch about the Hopewell High School InvenTeam. Using Kim's professional resources, the team received input from Gary Chin, President of Dauphin Human Design, the world’s leading office seating manufacturer, and the Industrial Design students at Virginia Tech.  Delta Graphics in Chester, Dauphin, and KSA Interiors contributed seating and desk samples to the students so they could evaluate different product components. Will Frederikson, a retired mechanical engineer, also read about the InvenTeam and provided crucial support to the development of the prototype. Dacko says, “ Will’s timing couldn’t have been better. It was exactly the time in our process when we were in huge need of engineering support. Will truly helped us to realize our vision for the desk."

As the InvenTeam made final preparations for MIT’s EurekaFest, it was determined that a trade show booth would be an excellent way to tell the story of their invention. KSA Interiors worked with the InventTeam to create the text and graphics for the booth.  Kim also recruited Larry Ragland, President of Mark Bric, and Wayne Nystrom, President & CEO of GraphicsGallery through their shared connection with the Virginia Council of CEOs.  Mark Bric donated the portable display booth to the InvenTeam and GraphicsGallery provided the production of the booth graphics.

"(The team was) really excited about the trip to Cambridge in June," Dacko explained. "Who knows, the next generation of Hopewell High School students may be sitting at desks designed right here at our school." The team returned from EurekaFest even more energized and confident about their invention, which was well received and sparked a great deal of interest among their fellow inventors. Long-term, they hope the desk will go into mass production and return to classrooms, including those at Hopewell High, where all students will be able to benefit from it!

*Due to the confidential nature of the InvenTeam's desk prototype and design, no images of the desk will be shared.


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