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Potluck: Encouraging the Muffler Girl

Encouraging the Muffler Girl

by Carol Bodensteiner
photo courtesy Gail Kunch



When she was in third grade, Tracy Older didn’t know she wanted to be an engineer. She just knew she liked putting things together. By the time Older was in eighth grade at Holy Trinity School in Fort Madison, she had come up with the idea for a filter and muffler to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Her mother suggested she try Invent Iowa.

One of the state’s original STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Education Coalition activities, Invent Iowa is a statewide program developed to promote the invention process as part of the regular K-12 curriculum. 

“We encourage students to develop inventions that are new, useful, nonobvious, and also meet the requirements for a U.S. patent,” says Clar Baldus, Invent Iowa administrator at the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center. Since its inception, Invent Iowa has involved over 500,000 students.

“Invent Iowa makes science and engineering tangible by giving students a chance to solve real-world problems,” says Gail Kunch, a biology and environmental sciences teacher at Holy Trinity High School. Kunch recognized Older’s talent and became her mentor. 

Older won Invent Iowa recognition at the state level. She continued to enter in subsequent years, each year improving her muffler filter design, and became known as The Muffler Girl. “Invent Iowa tells students, ‘You can do it; you are smart,’” says Older. “They kept pushing me to get better and keep creating.” 

The professional experience, encouragement, and scholarships Older acquired through Invent Iowa have paid off. She now studies engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana.


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