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Principia School
Upper School STEM Project Recognized

From left to right: Mel Shedd (C'98), Sydney, Rhys, Nadim Sarhan

A Principia education is nothing if not impactful—not just for its students, but for the world. From its inception 125 years ago, the School’s objective has been the betterment of humanity. Given this approach, Principia’s commitment to innovation has always been inseparable from its impact. That ethos might help explain how a group of sophomores was recognized in the 2023 International Technology and Engineering Educators Association’s (ITEEA) REACH challenge this past January. 

The REACH challenge, spanning Middle School to College, encourages students to use design thinking to enhance Assistive and Adaptive Technology designs. By putting their heads together, Rhys, Sydney, and Reid (not pictured) proved there’s no age restriction to making a meaningful difference. 

Their winning design was simple, but the need it met was great. Their charge was to help someone with an implanted medical device find comfort while sleeping, and the students threw themselves into the task. “We started with empathy,” says STEM teacher Nadim Sarhan. “We interviewed [our user], asked questions, and followed up with them. Our design was specific to that person.” 

With specific needs in mind, the students designed, prototyped, and tested multiple iterations of their invention, working diligently until they felt the product met the needs of the user. “They started with sketches but immediately knew they needed to use a design tool or software. The first [prototype] wasn't the best. It was just a plastic box,” says Sarhan. “They realized, ‘We need to make it lighter.’ And they came up with a truss design. They said, ‘It's still sharp, we need to pad it.’ And they sewed padding and fabric around the edges.”

And while this recognition for their hard work is certainly exciting, Sarhan says it wasn't the goal. “I say I teach for the ah-ha moments. To me, that’s what we want before we’re recognized by anyone else.” 

Principia accepted the award this month in Memphis.