Louisiana Teen Wins Recognition in National STEM Contest for Stroke-Detecting Invention

From as far back as Naya Ellis’s memory reaches, science has been her top subject and she has aspired to aid others by working in healthcare. Her affinity for science and her altruistic inclinations led her to design a watch that can detect signs of a stroke in adults, distinguishing her as a champion in the National STEM Challenge.

A high school freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, Naya delved into creating the watch through the program STEM NOLA, which immerses K-12 students in hands-on projects in science, technology, engineering, and math. The initiative provides a lengthy STEM fellowship to low-income high school pupils of color who exhibit an interest in tackling real-world challenges.

Naya enrolled in the fellowship to keep herself occupied but was pleasantly surprised by the opportunities it offered.

STEM NOLA also conducts STEM Saturday, a free program allowing K-12 students to craft inventions. During her first attendance in October, Naya initially envisioned a seizure-detecting watch but promptly pivoted to developing a stroke-detection watch, a concept inspired by her grandmother’s stroke experience. Dubbed WingItt, her invention materialized in the final moments of the program.

The functionality of the watch revolves around detecting nerve impulses and heartbeats. Recognizing the prominence of strokes in older individuals, Naya focused on creating a device tailored to this demographic. As she refines her prototype, her aim is pinpointing stroke detection exclusively without interference from other health issues.

Ensuring affordability for elderly individuals lacking the financial means for high-tech gadgets is paramount for Naya and her innovative watch.

“I want to pursue something that captivates me and leaves a positive imprint on the world,” she expresses.

Naya’s invention could potentially make significant strides in this direction, as she stands among the 126 students picked as champions out of a pool exceeding 2,500 nationwide in the National STEM Challenge. Presented by the U.S. Department of Education and EXPLR, the competition is slated to hold its inaugural festival in Washington, D.C., where the champions will exhibit their creations. Benefitting from two months of coding training and four months of master classes with STEM authorities, including astronauts and sports statisticians, the students are on the path to further accomplishments.

“Winning never crossed my mind,” Naya reflects. The prospect of showcasing her watch and observing other inventions at the upcoming festival fuels her anticipation.

Naya advocates for younger science enthusiasts to explore STEM, emphasizing the unforeseen experiences it can bring. She encourages local students, particularly those in her area, to engage with STEM NOLA for the chance to broaden their horizons.

At the outset of her high school journey, Naya harbors ambitions for an enriching STEM career, sports involvement, attaining a college scholarship, and ultimately becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist.

“The joy of ushering new life into the world is unparalleled to me. I’m a woman empowering women—it doesn’t get any better than that!”National STEM ChallengeThe 74