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Karen Fan and Felege Gebru: A Journey From Newton North High School to the White House




karen fan.jpg
karen fan.jpg


Meet Karen Fan and Felege Gebru

I have served on the Advisor Committee for Newton Public Schools Career & Vocational Technical Education Committee since 2011. During that time, I met Karen Fan and Felege Gebru through NNHS InvenTeam, an initiative by an incredible Design and Visual Communications teacher named Sue Brooks at Newton North High School. InvenTeam seeks to “accelerate the process of systematically orienting educators and policymakers around today’s K-12 students to prepare them for modern life as adults.”

NNHS InvenTeam functions very much like a small design and technology firm, where every student on the team is assigned with a role such as designer, engineer, writer, product manager, etc.

In 2013, NNHS InvenTeam applied to enter the Lemelson-MIT High School Student Grant. After a year of hard work (including the summer), their project was chosen to be presented at the White House Science Affair in front of President Barack Obama.

When I received an email from Mrs. Brooks about this update, I almost fell out of my chair at work. Karen, Felege and Mrs. Brooks had to join me on Feisworld. Mrs. Brooks couldn’t make it so we want to dedicate this episode to her and her family. Without them, InvenTeam would not have existed.

Today, Karen is a Sophomore at MIT and Felege is a Junior at Brown.








In Part 1, we dive right into their visit to the White House:

  • What was it like to meet and shake hands with President Obama?
  • How was the presentation received by the President?
  • How was NNHS InvenTeam formed and who was the key person to make it happen?
  • What exactly was the project they worked on? Who did they collaborate with?
  • How has the NNHS InvenTeam experience changed both of their lives?
  • What does design have to do with technology (do you have to give up one to choose the other)?
  • Why does Mrs. Brooks go out of her way to help students in arts?

In Part 2, we set aside glories and trophies and began focusing on the daily lives of two college students:

  • What is the day in the life of an MIT / Brown student?
  • How to be obtain a “Pirate License” at MIT?
  • Why does Felege run with a “clicker” in the morning at Brown?
  • What do MIT college students do day in and day out?
  • What are a few things (in Karen and Felege’s opinions) that could improve the current state of higher education?
  • Why is it important to learn how to think?
  • Quick final questions – What does success mean? How to live a fulfilling life? What does a dream project look like to Karen and Felege without concerns of budget and resources?

How did this all happen?

You may be wondering how I got in touch with Mrs. Brooks in the first place. In 2011, I helped organize a field trip for design students at the Commonwealth School and Newton North High School to visit Sapient (an agency I was working for at the time) to explore design opportunities beyond traditional disciplines. Immediately after the field trip, I created the very first High School Internship Program at SapientNitro.


  1. Dear Fei,
    Thank you so much for doing the podcast of our journey to the White House. You did a spectacular job! While I was listening to it, I was flooded with memories of the NNHS Inventeam. To thank you, my current students and I created a video featuring our current project.

    Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV4Rsyw1tSU

    Keep up the great work!


    1. My goodness Sue, first off – this video made my day, my weekend! The kids are adorable, please introduce me to all of them. I will be posting this video to my Facebook page and other social channels. Let’s continue the conversation and record Part 2 of NNHS podcast.
      Happy Mother’s Day!

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