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RCC student wins award at state invention competition

A mechanical engineering student from Rogue Community College won the community college division of the InventOR Collegiate Challenge on Friday. It's the third time in four years RCC students have received the honor, which includes a $1,500 prize.

Cesar Navarrete, 31, of Medford, is developing an exoskeletal hand that could help workers from a wide spectrum of industries with jobs that require significant grip strength. He came up with the idea for ExoHand after developing difficulties with his own grip and hand strength after seven years working in the irrigation industry.

Invent Oregon, or InventOR, is Oregon’s only statewide invention competition. Celebrating its fifth year, InventOR included 19 teams from public and private colleges and universities across Oregon. The competition added a community college division in its second year. RCC teams received the award in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Managed by the Portland State University Center for Entrepreneurship, InventOR is a three-month program that helps collegiate innovators take their ideas from concept to prototype. Throughout the program, students receive mentorship in product development, raising capital and marketing, and participate in preliminary competitions at their home campuses. Winners are selected by an expert panel based on the teams' pitches and prototypes.

This year's state final was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Top honors and a $10,000 grand prize went to a team from Oregon Institute of Technology for their project Electerro, a solar and wind generator built to resemble a birch tree. In addition to the Best Community College category, prizes were awarded for finishing in second, third and fourth place as well as a Visionary Award and a People's Choice Award.

RCC's Navarrete plans to graduate with an associate degree in 2022 and transfer to Oregon Institute of Technology. He is co-president of the Rogue Engineers student club, which is sponsored by RCC Science department chair James "Dusty" Rittenbach, who also advises the college's InventOR teams. 

"It was a lot. It was somewhat intimidating," Navarrete said of the competition. "It was my first step getting into that type of world. It was a confidence booster. I learned a lot."

Navarrete plans to refine his design for the ExoHand, which he created at home with a 3D printer. The final plan is to create a glove with a pneumatic grip that applies 160 pounds per square inch of force. Navarrete said he hopes to design "robotic stuff" as a career.

Invent Oregon is made possible by the Lemelson Foundation, Business Oregon, The Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Stoel Rives, Horan MediaTech, Wells Fargo and Portland State University.