SPOTLIGHT ON STUDENTS: Budding McKay High School engineer turns to technology to help others

Lesly Rojas worked with classmates to design several award-winning inventions to help farm workers and people with disabilities. His work has grossed thousands of dollars in prizes for McKay’s engineering programs. This is part of a Salem Reporter series featuring senior graduates.

Lesly Rojas, McKay High School Class of 2021 (Courtesy Photo)

Lesly Rojas had never touched a motherboard when a friend invited her to an engineering club reunion in seventh grade.

Soon after, Rojas built a prosthetic arm.

“It was an amazing experience to see my invention come to life,” she said.

Since then, she has invented and built.

When she arrived at McKay High School, Rojas quickly joined the school’s Math Engineering Science Achievement club.

In grade two, she was part of a team that designed and built a prototype cup suitable for helping people with drinking and swallowing difficulties stay hydrated. The team was one of 15 people from the United States selected for a $ 10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Lemelson Foundation to build their design.

The team visited MIT to present their work in June 2019.

“It was a dream come true,” Rojas said of the trip recently.

The pandemic and the move to online school have made it more difficult for the group to continue working on this project. But Rojas, who is always on the lookout for new opportunities, has started working on another design competition aimed at helping the people around her.

“We knew that a large part of McKay is surrounded by many farm fields and blueberries, and that many family members or even the students themselves tend to work there,” she said.

McKay High School sophomore Lesly Rojas explains a circuit board to a young student during a 2019 science fair at First Baptist Church in Salem. (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter)

Rojas led a team of students who interviewed farm workers, local farmers and agricultural experts about the challenges they face in blueberry plantations. Based on their work, the team devised two inventions.

One is a skirt-like accessory for existing catching systems aimed at reducing food waste and preventing fruit from being bruised when picking. The students found that berries are often damaged by contact with surfaces when going through a picking machine and included air jets in their design to redirect the berries without harming them.

Another is a cart that can be solar powered or charged and moves along a track, sparing workers the tedious and tedious task of pushing carts across the field to transport berries.

“She took the lead and motivated a team of students who had never worked on a long-term invention project before,” said Katrina Hull, professor of engineering at McKay.

The team of nine students was a semi-finalist in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition, winning $ 15,000 for McKay’s engineering program in January.

Amid the chaos of back to school in person, team members have yet to be able to prototype their designs. Rojas said she hopes to continue working on the project. Its goal is to create technology that helps people.

“Both the adaptive cut and the work we were doing with the farmers, seeing it come to life in a certain way is really inspiring for me,” she said.

Rojas has also researched high school business programs, serving as McKay’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter chair this year and interning at MAPS Credit Union.

She would like to someday own her own invention business and wants to understand the financial side of the job, not just the technology, she said.

Rojas will work as a civil engineering intern for the Oregon Department of Transportation over the summer before starting the electrical engineering program at Oregon State University in the fall. She said her success in high school reflects her willingness to seize the opportunities that come their way.

“Say yes to new opportunities. Say yes to these crazy projects. Say yes to doing a project on Zoom during a pandemic, ”she said with a laugh.

Hull said it was clear Rojas was a bright and curious student even in his first year when Rojas took Hull’s geometry course.

“I’m super excited to see what’s coming for her and what’s on the road. I hope she will hire me one day, ”Hull said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected]r.com or 503-575-1241.

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