Yale student joins alumni in supporting Connecticut’s youngest inventors
Since he started sharing his inventions, Gabriel Mesa ’22 has been focused on using technology to help the people around him live better lives. His first submission to the Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) — an annual competition for K-12 students — was in third grade, a screw-on attachment for tracheotomies to minimize discomfort. The experience, he says, changed him.
“I gave a presentation at the capital in Hartford,” Mesa says. “It got me excited about inventing. I saw such beautiful stuff and I felt special.” Mesa won an award that year, and kept on winning in subsequent years, for a watch that would show digital images of friends and families to dementia patients; for an IV alert that would trigger an alarm if a patient’s IV came out; for a magnetic collar to keep the tongue forward in patients with sleep apnea; and for an electrical shoe insert called Stimuped for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy — pain and numbness in the feet.
Mesa has since joined the board of the CIC, and this past weekend at the University of Connecticut, he served as a judge for prizes sponsored by the Yale Club of Hartford. With the club’s support, he’ll also serve as intern for CIC this summer, translating the organization’s materials into Spanish and helping to develop their Inventor of the Week program.
CIC is one of the many ways Yale alumni are giving back to their communities leading up to the official Yale Day of Service on May 11, and alumni leaders at the Yale Club of Hartford say the event has become a pivotal one for their group. Two years ago, Katherine McCormack ’81 M.P.H. and Eric Fleischmann ’83 B.A. happened upon a regional CIC competition in East Hartford and asked how they could lend support. Board member Frederick Sowah ’06 B.A., a chemistry major at Yale who is now in the Cigna Financial Leadership Development Program, shared their enthusiasm. The Yale club is now a corporate sponsor and awarded three dedicated Yale prizes at this past weekend’s state finals — an elementary school prize in honor of Samuel Morse (B.A. 1810), inventor of the telegraph; a middle school prize in honor of Daniel Bushnell (B.A. 1775), an American industrialist; and a high school prize in honor of Eli Whitney (B.A. 1792), who developed the cotton gin and the concept of mass production. The student winners each received a trophy, gift, and award certificates, and a book about their respective inventor. Twelve members of the Yale Club of Hartford participated as volunteers, interviewing students and judging entries.
“I don’t think people really understand the scope of the Invention Convention until they come into Gampel Pavilion and see the bleachers filled by thousands of student inventors, parents, coaches and judges,” says McCormack, a healthcare contractor specializing in public health and emergency preparedness, who was director of health and emergency management for the City of Harford. “I’m committed to promoting initiatives that benefit and stimulate children.”
Fleischmann, a practicing immigration attorney with an interest in contemporary art, spent his undergraduate years pursuing a dual interest in physics and history. Introduced to the Wright Lab at Yale during a recent tour and lecture by lab director Karsten Heeger, the alumnus proposed a Scientific Visualization contest for Yale-affiliated artists and scientists aimed at creating conceptual models of subatomic particles. The first contest, focusing on dark matter, was held at the lab just as classes ended in late April. “When you think of an atom, or DNA, you have a picture in your mind,” Fleischmann explained. “But what image do you have of a neutrino?”
Mesa has accumulated scores of science awards since he first presented at the CIC — including prizes from Microsoft, 3M, and Regeneron, and recognition by Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list of budding entrepreneurs — and he toured many technology schools when considering college options. But, like Fleischmann, Mesa says he’s interested in more than straight science. “I thought Yale had strong STEM and strong humanities,” says the Canton, Connecticut native. “I looked at the physics lab and Yale Quantum Institute, but I was also drawn to the richness of the humanities and my ability to do both.”
Mesa says he really embraces being on the other side of the displays as a judge at CIC. “As a judge, I’m able to really appreciate what other students have done,” he says. “And I have good insights as someone who has done it before and can understand a student’s capabilities.”
The Yale Club of Hartford plans to expand its support of young inventors going forward. Sowah says: “The club is looking to scale its partnership with CIC through mentoring, judging, and internships. Hopefully this is just the start of a special relationship.”