Louisiana Teen’s Stroke-Detecting Invention Recognized in National STEM Contest

New Orleans 14-year-old's creation, called WingItt, measures heartbeat and nerve impulses to pick up early signs of stroke.

This is a headshot of teenager Naya Ellis.
Naya Ellis designed her watch through STEM NOLA at their weekend program.(STEM NOLA)

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Ever since 14-year-old Naya Ellis can remember, science has been her favorite subject and she has wanted to help others by working in the medical field. She recalls taking care of her mother when she was about 7 years old, helping change her bandages during her battle with breast cancer. Now, the ninth-grader has combined her love of science and her desire to support others by designing a watch that detects signs of a stroke in adults. She was named a champion in the National STEM Challenge for her invention last month. 

Naya, a freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, was inspired to create the watch through a program called STEM NOLA, where K-12 students learn and participate in hands-on science, technology, engineering and math projects. The organization offers an eight-month-long STEM fellowship to low-income high school students of color who show an interest in solving real-world problems and gives them training, career and networking opportunities.

She signed up for the fellowship because she wanted to keep herself busy. Little did she know the opportunities the program would allow her.

The organization also hosts STEM Saturday, a free weekend program where K-12 students can create inventions. When Naya attended her first STEM Saturday in October, she thought designing a watch that detects seizures would be a great idea. But the following weekend — the last weekend to complete her project — she changed her plan entirely and instead created a watch for stroke detection, since her grandmother had suffered a stroke. She named her invention WingItt, a fitting title for an idea that sprouted at the last second.

The watch works by detecting nerve impulses and heartbeats. Naya says that many stroke victims may develop noticeable signs such as a droopy face or strange taste in their mouth, but she wanted to create something that can detect internal symptoms. As she researched, she found that strokes were more common in people 55 and older than in younger people, so she wanted to cater to this demographic. As she works out the kinks in her prototype, she wants to ensure that it is detecting only strokes and not picking up on other issues, such as those involving the heart.

A huge priority for Naya is making sure her watch is affordable for older adults who may not have the money for expensive technology, like iPhones and Apple Watches, that have health-monitoring features.

“I want to do something I’m interested in, that will also change the world,” she says.

Naya’s invention could well be on its way to doing just that, as she is one of 126 students out of over 2,500 nationwide to be selected as champions in the National STEM Challenge. The competition for grades 6 to 12, presented by the U.S. Department of Education and EXPLR, will host its inaugural festival next month in Washington, D.C., where the champions will showcase their creations. The students are also receiving two months of coding training and four months of master classes with STEM experts like astronauts and sports statisticians. 

“I never thought that I would win,” Naya says. She says she looks forward to presenting her watch and seeing the other inventions at the festival. 

Naya thinks younger students who may have an interest in science should give STEM a try because it has given her experiences she never thought she would have. She says students in her area specifically should give STEM NOLA a chance because it has allowed her to go to new places and learn new things.

As a freshman, Naya still has plenty of time to do more in the world of STEM. Her other plans include playing softball and getting a college scholarship, and longer-term, becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist.

“I love the fact that you’re bringing new life into the world, that’s the coolest thing ever to me. I’m a woman helping women. It can’t get any better than that!”
Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation and Overdeck Family Foundation provide financial support to the National STEM Challenge and The 74.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today