High school senior Zoe Eggleston said she considered her ice-fishing trips with her father, Brad, a mixed bag: she loved the father-daughter camaraderie but had to fight her terror of falling through the ice.
As she confronted her fear time and time again, she said she wanted to find a fix, but wasn’t quite sure how.
From her earliest days in school, Zoe said she struggled with reading and writing. Diagnosed with a learning disability, she was assigned to special education classes to bolster those skills.
As the years went by, Zoe accepted that she was never going to be at the top of her class. Certainly she could not foresee that she would be Newtown High School’s only Class of 2013 graduate to be a patented inventor.
She said she always enjoyed a strong social circle of “ridiculously smart” friends, but was never in their classes. She played sports – she is a varsity swimmer and runner. But in middle school she felt aimless.
“I didn’t know where I was going … I was completely blind about the future,” Zoe said.
In eighth grade, she was required to do an independent science project – and it changed her life.
Sitting at the kitchen table of her home in the Hawleyville section of Newtown last week, surrounded by blueprints of her first invention and her patent, the National Honor Society inductee recalled how at first she was just going to write an essay.
Her mother, Kathy Mayer, pushed her to think differently.
“You know, she’s unique. She sees things three-dimensionally,” Mayer said of the second of her four children. “She just likes to go up in her room and take things apart.”
Zoe heeded her mother’s advice. Of 20 initial ideas, Zoe settled on an invention that could help her conquer her fear: an ice-safety device to alert fishermen, skaters and others about whether a lake or pond is frozen enough to safely navigate.
Her prototype, dubbed The Ice Device, is made from a Styrofoam kickboard, plastic pumping pipe, a paper towel roll, and a remote-controlled car. The foam float is launched into water by remote control and if the ice around it is thick enough, the water freezes around the pipe so it doesn’t rise. If the ice is thin, the pipe is visible, signaling observers the area is not safe.
The ingenuity of her project earned her an invitation to submit it to the Invention Convention – and an award entitling her to a formal application for a patent. Four years later; the official patent arrived at the Eggleston home on Oct. 30.
To Zoe, this patent, the first of what she hopes will be many, is the “cherry on top” of her primary education. She said her real prize was to find herself in the company of 500 other students “who think the way I think.”
One Russian judge, whose name she doesn’t remember but whose words she will never forget, told her: “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re an inventor.”
In high school, Zoe’s course load has been filled with science and technology courses, such as auto mechanics and physics. She still has a reading tutor.
She is applying to several top engineering colleges, and intends to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
“How cool is that?” her mother said. “Zoe is a kid with a learning disability, and this is what she can do.”
Board of Education member John Vouros, a retired Newtown teacher of gifted and talented students, was a mentor for Zoe’s junior/senior project. He and fellow board members and faculty applauded Zoe as an inventor at a Board of Education meeting.
“As an educator, how could you not be thrilled?” Vouros said. “You can’t just dream the dream. You have to make the dream happen. You have to work at your dream. And she did.”
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