La Porte’s Robert Martin, students at Michigan City’s Barker Middle School and Crown Point’s Christian School know the ‘secret’ of innovation. Like every creative genus, these students dream, probe, experiment, risk, ask, observe, persevere, challenge and imagine.

The Center for Creative Solutions honored them during April’s World Creativity and Innovation Week. Underwritten by the Morgan Family Foundation, they received Student Innovation awards. For the first time, two schools, Barker Middle and Crown Point Christian, were honored with monetary prizes.

Robert Martin is a La Porte High School junior, and an aspiring architect and entrepreneur.

“Robert knows no stranger. His determination has led him to befriend the people who work at local, small businesses, in particular the many antique and resale shops in La Porte. He uses the tools and resources at the Exchange to customize objects he has picked up at yard sales or in antique stores. Where we might see a box of mismatch wine glasses, Robert sees an opportunity to laser etch custom names and logos, or to apply festive vinyl shapes, selling them for a modest profit,” according to his nominators at the Exchange, a part of the La Porte County Public Library.

Using the library’s facility, Robert researches real estate and business models. With the Exchange’s 3-D modeling program, he conceptualizes drawings of his dream projects.

These detailed drawings include converting a mall into work/residence spaces and much more. “What makes Robert exceptional is the level of detail he includes,” his nominators said. “He can conceptualize customer flow, security weakness, curb appeal – concerns that experience entrepreneurs often overlook.”

Robert volunteers at the La Porte Salvation Army and with Bring Change to Mind. This high school organization raises awareness, understanding and empathy around mental illness.

Michigan City’s Barker Middle School is STEM Certified and has been building a culture of creativity and innovation for a number of years.

“…our programs prioritize the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math, all critical to preparing students for 21st Century success. STEM Certified Schools exemplify a highly non-traditional approach to education by employing a great deal of inquiry, project-based learning, community engagement, entrepreneurship, student-centered classrooms and out-of-school STEM activities,” explained Amy Hamann, Barker STEM teacher and coordinator.

Each year, students have three challenges: “Ramp Challenge,” “Water Bottle Rockets” and “Egg Crash!” For many of its activities, the school invites community participation from organizations like Sullair, the Michigan City Police and Fire Departments, NIPSCO, U.S. Steel and more. It also enjoys partnerships with Valparaiso University and the Society of Women Engineers.

“Students are continually creating original, unique products throughout many classes at Barker, such as 3D print designs, STEM Challenge products for competition, video documentaries and public service announcement videos,” Hamann said. “The amount of enthusiasm and energy of these Barker students and their teachers is contagious. What an exciting, innovative environment,” said Cynthia Hedge of the Center for Creative Solutions.

Pat Lain, Board President of the Center for Creative Solutions presented Student Innovation Awards to Barker students, Elijah Vittatoe, Gage Kelley, Addyson Heichel, Seth Gaddis, Makenna Nowatzke, Desiree Jimenez, Alexis Gresham, Deianira Oldenkamp and Wyatt Debald. Their collective accomplishments resulted in a monetary award to the school’s STEM program.

Located in St. John (Indiana) Crown Point Christian School serves students pre-kindergarten through 8th grade.

“This school obviously has big plans for a competitive STEAM program. Their ‘stick-with-it’ attitude seems off the charts,” observed Lain. She presented Student Innovation Awards to students, Joey O’Connor, Jacob VanderLaan, Troy Hacker, Leah Root, Sara Laud, Jace Logan and Kaden Richardson, along with a check to the school.

These students are on the school’s newly-form robotics team. All but two were new to robotics at the beginning of this school year.

The idea of a team started with the 6th and 7th graders themselves. They wanted to know more about robotics. By the end, they spent over 300 hours working on robotics, said Jill Wells, STEAM teacher.

“Their dedication to build and rebuild their robot was truly inspiring. They competed in one event and their robot’s wheel fell off. They were laughed at but responded by not giving up or reacting to teams that were trying to discourage their efforts,” Wells added.

Through it all, the students learned a truism of innovation: “failure is part of the process….fail fast and then move on,” Wells reported. The students gave up recesses, came before and after school and build eight robots. They placed 34 out of 43 teams in their first competition last fall. By spring, their standing improved remarkably – 8 out of 43 teams.

“They proved to everyone and especially to themselves to never give up…They are truly what every innovator needs to develop in their core character,” the teacher concluded.

Sponsors for Northwest Indiana’s World Creativity and Innovation Week were WIMS Radio, Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest, “Art on the Air” program on Southshore Public Radio, the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest, and the Center for Creative Solutions, Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging an innovative culture in Northwest Indiana.

Community partners included the Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City Public Library, La Porte County Public Library and the A. K. Smith Career Center.