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Pacific Ridge eighth-grader Benjamin Sager showcases the unique puzzles he designed and built. Courtesy photo
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Pacific Ridge students work to solve societal issues

CARLSBAD — Students at Pacific Ridge Middle School got a taste of what it takes to be a real-life entrepreneur.

The eighth-graders headed to the University of California San Diego Rady School of Management for a weeklong program from May 28 to June 1 to introduce skills such as marketing, design, development and research. The workshop, dubbed LaunchPad, had students meet with innovative thinkers, CEOs and community leaders.

LaunchPad combines the students’ purpose project and the effect individuals have on group dynamics and society as a whole. Students researched issues surrounding something they were passionate about, then found solutions.

For example, eighth-grader Benjamin Sager based his project on his passion for the Rubik’s Cube. He was bored with solving the plain Rubik’s Cube, something he can do in under 14 seconds, which led him to ask, “How can I make this more challenging?”

Benjamin found creating a double cube was the answer. He developed his own double cube, which he thought would challenge other enthusiasts as well as himself. The cube combined two of the puzzles to create a super puzzle. For another prototype, Benjamin sanded down an existing cube, used epoxy to re-coat it and created a brand-new Rubik’s cylinder.

“It doesn’t really work that well,” he said.

Still, Benjamin and his classmates were able to present their purpose projects and business ideas they worked on throughout the school year. The 96 eighth-graders came up with a wide variety of prototypes to solve particular problems or to address personal interests.

“We want to launch the eighth-graders into a successful high school experience,” said Pacific Ridge’s Director of Science and Engineering Outreach Julie Gunther.

Other student projects included research on the way light affects productivity, a call for more diversity in fashion, a musical piece made from sounds heard on a school campus, a videogame and a gaming console holder.

Another project featured a Calit2 demonstration of a cutting-edge media wall, educating students on the Mars Rover Spirit, which was originally considered a failure, but turned out to enable a monumental discovery about the planet.

On Mars, the rover faced technical problems and struggled to get out of a crater. While it didn’t travel nearly the amount that a twin rover traversed, Spirit still managed to snap the highest-resolution photo ever taken on another planet. In that photo, salt was visible in the trails left behind by the rover, indicating that water once existed on the planet.

“Understanding how to constructively approach challenges is an essential skill in high school, in college and in life,” noted Gunther. “Talking to so many successful entrepreneurs in the LaunchPad program is giving our eighth-graders insight into entrepreneurial thinking at an ideal time.”

The students’ burgeoning business ideas aimed to solve societal challenges in energy, the environment, culture and health — just as Calit2 aims to do.

Next year, the students will take all of their entrepreneurial skills into Pacific Ridge’s Ninth-Grade Service Learning Incubator, which challenges students to apply research and entrepreneurial thinking to better their local communities through service.

“Through this initiative, students are inspired to embrace innovative thinking and benefit our greater community by creating enduring business ideas, connections and increasing social mobility,” said Dr. Tina Klein, LaunchPad founder and executive director.