“Crushing” Product Design and Freshman Year at Stanford University
Recently, Sean Duncan, the Head of The Winchendon School | Brooklyn, had the opportunity to sit down with recent alumni Bryan Perla ‘17. Bryan has abandoned the East Coast in favor of a being a freshman at Stanford, and continues on the track he started at Winchendon of being a young inventor. Prior to coming to Winchendon, Bryan attended The Carroll School in Massachusetts.
Sean: Bryan! Crazy to think about it, but It’s been almost 9 months since we saw you walk across the stage at graduation. How’s life at Stanford treating you?
Bryan: I know. That’s crazy to think about! Stanford is going great, and I am keeping busy with academics, athletics, and hobbies. The community and people here are very humbling because I am constantly surrounded by amazingly talented and intelligent students.
Sean: Pretty exciting stuff. Tell me a bit about your transition from high school. Was it easier than you expected? Harder? I’m sure it was a lot of work, but were you prepared?
Bryan: I feel that the transition to college was easier for me than other students here because I learned the skills to succeed. Many classes at Stanford are focused on critical thinking rather than memorizing information. Coming from a small school and then going to a much larger school, I thought it was going to be a challenge for me. But coming from Winchendon, I had learned how important creating a relationship with your teachers is–so the after first class of every course I take here I introduce myself to the teachers. This simple gesture makes a large university feel smaller. Overall, I felt very prepared coming from Winchendon because I was taught a rigorous curriculum, time management, and other overarching skills to navigate through school.
Sean: How is juggling academics, sports, and the rest of your life?
Bryan: Juggling academics, sports, and hobbies is very difficult, but every weekend I map out my week down to the hour, so I am able to follow a strict schedule throughout the entire week. This is something Winch stressed and embedded in me.When I become overwhelmed and stressed, going up to a teacher and working the situation out is something I was able to work on at Winchendon and helps me navigate the challenges of college.
Sean: How does your coursework at Stanford compare to your learning at Winchendon?
Bryan: To be completely honest, Winch is at the forefront of education and ahead of Stanford in a lot of areas in my opinion. The parallels between Stanford and Winchendon have become very evident to me since I’ve been on campus. Embracing exploration, and in your own terms “crushing it”, is something that every student here at Stanford possesses. Success here does not strictly mean getting A’s, but it’s a broader, more powerful thing than that. It’s diving into what you are interested in and putting 110% of your effort into that passion. ColLABs at Winchendon epitomize this characteristic. Everyone is smart at Stanford, so the community here does not look at failure as bad-or good. But rather learning from failure is normal and encouraged, and this is true at both Winchendon and Stanford.
Sean: You started your ‘young innovator’ career at Winchendon. Can you elaborate on your project and how it got started at Winchendon?
Bryan: I started getting interested in inventions at a young age. Winchendon was able to facilitate my passion, and I was able to really go crazy and all in on my inventions during ColLAB. During my senior year, I designed, prototyped and worked on a patent for a project I developed during ColLAB — a device that helps people cut wrapping paper. I went through many different models, but ended with one that was the most Easy, Lightweight, and Fast. I called my new product Little ELF. Winchendon allowed me to learn a lot about the innovation process because I was able to apply for a patent pending and develop multiple prototypes.
Sean: You’re allowed to be a dreamer here, but what are your goals for the Little Elf? What do you want to get out of it?
Bryan: Everyone at Winchendon encouraged and pushed me to follow a passion and to not back down until I was happy with the outcome. A goal of mine is to be able to walk into a store and see this product on the shelf. For me, that would be incredible. To go from imagining how this product would work, to bringing it into the hands of other people is inspiring to me to say the least. I want this to be a success, not for the money, but because my intuition continues to tell me that people will fall in love with the simplicity and efficiency of the product. I don’t like the idea of “no”, but I also have to understand that this product could fail, and even if it does I will still have had a tremendous education through the process of development, patenting products, raising money, and advertising.
Sean: Any final plugs for Little Elf — how can we help get the word out about your work!?
Bryan: Getting fully funded through pre-sales on Kickstarter will determine if this product can be produced and sold to customers around the world. If Little ELF can reach its goal on Kickstarter, your friends and family will get Little ELF and be able to use it by the next Christmas. Unfortunately–and this is part of being an innovator–if Little ELF cannot get fully funded than the product will not be produced. Mr. Duncan, I challenge your friends, family, and whoever is reading this to buy a Little ELF on April 24th, but also to show this to other people that will help fund the Kickstarter! At Winchendon, I knew I could be a success as an individual with the help of teachers, faculty, and mentors. I know Little ELF can and will bbe successful with the help of others. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for very important updates and even great deals leading up to the big Kickstarter launch!
Sean: Bryan, a pleasure catching up — looking forward to the next time.
Bryan: Yes it was great catching up again, and we will talk again soon!