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Students were political canvassers, escape room artists, physicists, fashionistas, inventors, thought leaders, collaborators, activists, change agents, and boat builders, among many other identities, during Project Week 2019.

Future Innovator: Alex Chiang '20 Is Finalist in Conrad Challenge

How might technology help overcome the challenge of limited individualized education in an overcrowded classroom, particularly for middle school students? Alex Chiang '20 (a member of one of Pingry's Independent Research Teams) and three teammates who met in the Cooper Union Summer STEM program tackled that question for the 2018-2019 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.

The Conrad Foundation honors the legacy of astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr. (1930-1999)—commander of the Apollo 12 mission and third man to walk on the moon—and his four-decade passion for innovation and entrepreneurship; to aid the commercialization of space travel, he worked on the development of new spacecraft and transportation systems with McDonnell Douglas. In his memory, the foundation's international Conrad Challenge brings science and technology to life through a student-driven, project-based approach: Students ages 13 to 18 identify relevant, real-world challenges that don't necessarily have a clear answer and learn how to innovate by creating solutions. 

Competing in the "Transforming Education Through Technology" category, Alex's team created a business plan and concept videos for SmartDesk, a school desk fitted with a tablet programmed with SmartBoard technology; Alex primarily worked on programming and product design.

"Student achievement is lowered [in overcrowded classrooms] because teachers are unable to cater to the needs of each student," the group writes in the business plan. "SmartDesk connects to a teacher's device, so he or she can livestream a student's work. Teachers can directly communicate with parents through the device, which is taken home every day. Students would use the device in each of their classes, enhancing their comprehension."

As a result of its work, Alex's team finished as a finalist (one of seven finalists in the category). Although their involvement in the Conrad Competition has ended, the team members plan to continue developing SmartDesk on their own.

Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer