Skip to main content

Mount Olive Middle Schoolers Win STEAM Tank Challenge

Feb 16, 2022 02:46PM ● By Steve Sears

Who said watching television isn’t beneficial? For Mount Olive Middle School 7th graders, Eman Husain and Meryl Payyappilly, doing so paid big benefits.

The duo was named winners of the U.S. Army/New Jersey School Boards Association STEAM Tank Challenge in middle school division for their “Helping Handcuffs” concept.

Initially tasked by their Chester M. Stephens Elementary School teacher to come up with an idea for the 2019 challenge in the younger division, they wracked their brains with thought, but were unable to come up with an idea. “Our teacher, Mrs. Karrie Blomquist, she approached us and a couple of other students I believe, and she told us about the program and how it was a good opportunity for us to create an invention,” Payyappilly recalls. “There are plenty of things we could have done at the time, but none of it was coming to us, and none of it was very inspiring to us. And then we were watching Sponge Bob and it just kind of  clicked.”

In front of the television watching Sponge Bob Square Pants investigating an aquatic prison and seeing a commercial advertisement as a follow upthe two friends came up with an idea for safer handcuffs for law enforcement to use which would reduce injury for the person wearing them.

Once they had their idea, Husain and Payyappilly took about a month to come up with a true concept made of recycled steel called “Helping Handcuffs” for the elementary division of the contest. After that, in order to get to the regional round, they had to create a video which explained their idea and ultimate invention, and then post it on YouTube. When viewed by the STEAM Tank judges and personnel, they were on their way to the regionals.

Then COVID-19 in early 2020 arrived, and so did the end of the competition. However, all was not lost. As the girls entered Mount Olive Middle School, teacher Rebecca Kreider, who had advised her own 8th grade class in the middle school division, was all ears when Husain and Payyappilly reached out and explained their situation to her, they wanting to continue pursuing their earlier idea. “From there,” says Payyappilly, “we created a presentation and we did a virtual meeting with the STEAM Tank judges and we presented it to them.”

“She was very helpful,” Husain says of Kreider. “She was an inspiration. She felt like we had this idea we started from elementary school and we should continue it.” Kreider continued to help as did teacher Beth Cohen, who helped with the presentation and logistics of their final setup. After their presentation, the girls were invited to a virtual award ceremony, where they learned they were the challenge winners. 

Husain and Payyappilly are currently working on getting more information about “Helping Handcuffs” out into the public. “We were so concerned about how people could actually become extremely injured, especially if you are an older age. It just inspired us, so we had to do something about it,” Payyappilly says. “We feel we should bring it to the public.”

Adds Husain, “We felt that it was just something that we needed to continue, and what we needed to do, and we still are doing it. We started it and it was just kind of an obligation to finish it.”