Saddle Brook, NJ Middle School Students Win Top Prize—
A $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant

in National Science Competition at Walt Disney World®

Senior Citizens Falling in the Night Inspired Students' Idea for Automatic Light


ORLANDO, FL—June 24, 2005—A group of students from Saddle Brook Middle School in Saddle Brook, NJ won the top prize at the Christopher Columbus Awards here Thursday night—the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant. Coached by their teacher, Marilyn Hamot Ryan, the students-eighth-graders Urszula Kapinos, Heather Kuehnle, Ashley LaRose, and Kasia Truszkowska, were among more than 1,100 nationwide who competed in the program which challenges middle-school students to use science and technology to solve pressing issues in their communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 1.6 million seniors are treated in emergency rooms every year due to falls in their homes. Many of these occur in the middle of the night as they wake out of a deep sleep fumbling for glasses, light switches and secure footing.

Concerned about the night-time plight of seniors, these students developed a secure floor mat that automatically turns a light on for a set period of time when a person steps on it as they get out of their bed. The students met with officials from Saddle Brook-area hospitals, senior assistance centers and conducted interviews and tests with 50 older people to devise a solution.

Team Photo

$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant Winners,
"Auto-MAT-ic" — Saddle Brook, NJ.
Left to right: Coach Marilyn Hamot Ryan, Ashley LaRose,
Urszula Kapinos, Heather Kuehnle and Kasia Truszkowska.

Two Gold Medal winners were also announced at the awards last night:

Team Wins a Trip to Walt Disney World

The team won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, where they competed against seven other finalist teams from around the country as part of the Christopher Columbus Awards' National Championship Week. They also participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program conducted by scientists, engineers and educators to give the students a hands-on look at the science behind innovation such as the thrills of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology. The program is now in its ninth year and has attracted nearly 13,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( with support from the National Science Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association. Past winners have included a group of Native American girls who built a study hall out of straw on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, and a group of students from Pennsylvania who developed a video/motion sensor and camera for school buses that deters motorists from trying to pass illegally.

Strong Participation from Girls, Minorities

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and more than a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students to enter.

For more information on the Christopher Columbus Awards, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit