Today, a group of 12 high school students from the DIY Girls Program in Pacoima, California are being recognized for their invention to combat homelessness in LA using solar powered collapsible tents for shelter. They are one of 15 InvenTeams across the nation to be awarded up to $10,000 in grant funding from the Lemelson-MIT Program for an invention that addresses a real-world problem in their community. What’s more… they are the only all-girl team selected for the annual program, which aims to inspire a new generation of inventors.

The 12 team members behind the Solar Powered Collapsible Tent are: America Hernandez (grade 11), Aracely Chavez (grade 12), Daniela Orozco (grade 12), Kassandra Salazar (grade 11), Kenia Shi (grade 12), Maggie Mejia (grade 12), Paola Valtierra (grade 11), Patricia Cruz (grade 12), Paulina Martinez (grade 12), Prinsesa Alvarez (grade 12), Veronica Gonzalez (grade 12), and Wendy Samoyoa (grade 12).

“Our goal through this invention is to provide the following amenities to homeless people: a portable and sanitary shelter in which to sleep that is passively temperature controlled and allows for access to modern necessities.”

Their invention came from witnessing, firsthand, a serious problem affecting their own community. “We see homeless people in our community – at church, on the streets, and in our families,” the DIY Girls noted in their project summary. “In particular, the San Fernando Valley saw a 36 percent increase in homelessness this year to 7,100 residents.” Confronted with this and other alarming data (13,000 people fall homeless every month in their area), the group was compelled to act, to come up with a solution for what local leaders call a “state of emergency.” The DIY Girls’ plan was “to apply engineering principles and processes toward the development of a device” to provide temporary shelter for people who are homeless in Los Angeles.

To come up with their design, the group did extensive research and conducted interviews with homeless population service providers in the LA area. All of what they learned “influenced the design of the tent greatly.” So it will be engineered to hit 4 critical points:

1. capable of collapsing into a portable backpack

2. utilize renewable solar energy to power basic electrical devices like cell phones*

3. incorporate UV LEDs to sanitize the interior of the tent

4. use insulating material that protects against Los Angeles’ wide ranging desert climate

We are completely blown away by these 12 extraordinary young women from the DIY Girls Program and cannot wait to see what the immediate and distant future holds for them.

They, along with the 14 other just named 2016–2017 InvenTeams, will now pursue their year-long invention projects and will showcase them at EurekaFest™ in June 2017. EurekaFest is the Lemelson-MIT Program’s multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

* From the team’s research – Cell phones are one of the critical resources for homeless youth today. Researchers found that 62% of homeless youth had cell phones; of those with a cell phone, 17% used the phone to connect with a caseworker or social worker, 36% used it to connect to a current or potential employer, 51% used it to connect to friends and 41% used it to connect to parents. (Rice, 2011)

Know Any Young Inventors?

The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam application for the 2017–2018 school year is now available here. Teams of high school students, teachers and mentors are encouraged to apply now through April 10, 2017.