Pacific Ridge eighth graders meet with community leaders to solve societal challenges

Pacific Ridge eighth grader Benjamin Sager showcases the unique puzzles he designed and built.

On May 28, eighth graders from Pacific Ridge School participated in a week-long entrepreneurship experience with UCSD’s Rady School of Management, introducing them to a range of skills, including marketing, design, development, research and more.

Through the workshop, called LaunchPad, students met with innovative thinkers, CEOs and community leaders to gain experience with entrepreneurship.

“We want to launch the eighth graders into a successful high school experience,” said Pacific Ridge’s Director of Science and Engineering Outreach Julie Gunther.

The LaunchPad was a natural fit for the eighth graders who have spent the year working diligently on a purpose project. To understand the effect individuals have on group dynamics and society as a whole, students researched issues surrounding something they were passionate about. Then, they thought of ways to solve the problem.

At LaunchPad, the students received feedback on their purpose projects from thought leaders and business executives, including Jason Hightower, CFO of Replica Printing, Grant Nyquist, founder of BLOC Leucadia, and Beto Vasquez, CREATE Specialist at UCSD.

At the end of the week-long course, students presented their purpose projects, and business ideas they worked on throughout the school year. The 96 eighth graders came up with a wide variety of prototypes to solve particular problems or to address personal interests.

Pacific Ridge student Benjamin Sager based his project on a distinct passion: the Rubik’s Cube. Sager realized that he was bored with solving the plain Rubik’s Cube, something he can do in under 14 seconds. That led him to ask the question, “How can I make this more challenging?”

He found that creating a double cube was the answer. Sager crafted his own double cube, which he thought would challenge other enthusiasts as well as himself. The cube combined two of the puzzles to create a super puzzle. For another prototype, Sager sanded down an existing cube, used epoxy to re-coat it and created a brand-new Rubik’s cylinder.

“It doesn’t really work that well,” he acknowledged. But, as he and the other students learned during a tour of the QUALCOMM Institute’s CALit, sometimes there is a lot to gain from failure.

During a CALit2 demonstration of a cutting-edge media wall, students learned that, while the Mars Rover Spirit was originally considered a failure, it turned out to enable a monumental discovery about the planet.

On Mars, the rover faced technical problems and struggled to get out of a crater. While it didn’t travel nearly the amount that a twin rover traversed, Spirit still managed to snap the highest-resolution photo ever taken on another planet. In that photo, salt was visible in the trails left behind by the rover, indicating that water once existed on the planet.

“Understanding how to constructively approach challenges is an essential skill in high school, in college and in life,” noted Gunther. “Talking to so many successful entrepreneurs in the LaunchPad program is giving our 8th graders insight into entrepreneurial thinking at an ideal time.”

Other student projects included research on the way light affects productivity, a call for more diversity in fashion, a musical piece made from sounds heard on a school campus, a videogame and a gaming console holder.

The students’ burgeoning business ideas aimed to solve societal challenges in energy, the environment, culture and health - just as the Calit2 aims to do.

“Through this initiative, students are inspired to embrace innovative thinking and benefit our greater community by creating enduring business ideas, connections, and increasing social mobility,” said Dr. Tina Klein, LaunchPad founder and executive director.

Next year, the students will take all of their entrepreneurial skills into Pacific Ridge’s Ninth-Grade Service Learning Incubator, which challenges students to apply research and entrepreneurial thinking to better their local communities through service.

--News release