Inventions and imagination: Darien high grad collaborates to solve problems

Gabriella D’Agosto with two of her inventions — a collapsible bicycle helmet, left, and a surgical instrument intended to remove gall bladders laparoscopically.

Gabriella D’Agosto with two of her inventions — a collapsible bicycle helmet, left, and a surgical instrument intended to remove gall bladders laparoscopically.

Gabriella D’Agosto is 22 years old and has already invented two products that could help thousands of people.

As a graduating senior from the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, D’Agosto is eager to take her entrepreneurial and scientific spirit into the professional world, where she can collaborate with top thinkers to solve problems.

D’Agosto, a Darien High School graduate, started college with the goal of becoming a doctor. She was soon drawn to the world of engineering, where her desire to innovate meshed with a discipline that is applied to virtually everything that people encounter in the modern world.

“I like that it incorporates more data analysis, and you get to be more innovative,” D’Agosto told The Darien Times.

With a team of other students, D’Agosto created a collapsible bicycle helmet made out of a material that is normally soft, but hardens almost instantly upon impact. The material, called D3O, was invented by another entrepreneurial engineer, Richard Palmer, in 2006.

“Our thought was that if you could stuff your helmet into your backpack when you weren’t riding, more people would wear one,” D’Agosto told her college website, UVA Today.

The material was woven into the fabric of the orange helmet, which collapses into a carrying case. Inventor Palmer originally came up with the material for snowboarders to use as safety equipment. While the helmet was a success, mass marketing it to the public has not been as successful, D’Agosto said, noting that the patenting and licensing process if expensive and lengthy, leaving many investors to be wary of assisting.

The helmet did, however, earn D’Agosto and her team a third place finish in the school’s Entrepreneurial Design Competition.

For her capstone project at the engineering school, she and her team developed a bag to help surgeons remove gall bladders during laparoscopic surgery, which involve tiny incisions and the use of a television monitor during the procedure.

She got the idea while shadowing a surgeon who told her that a common problem he encounters is trying to remove the gall bladder through the tiny incision, because the organ changes shape after it’s disconnected from the body. So D’Agosto developed a bag that could be placed over the organ to help it retain its shape for easier removal.

Her specimen retrieval bag could also be mass produced, as there are similar products being developed by two companies, D’Agosto said.

She has also spent some time with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where she currently serves as vice president. This group works to foster interest in engineering among Hispanic youth in her region. She brought roughly 75 high school students from around Virginia to a two-day engineering event called “Juntos Podemos,” which in Spanish means, “Together We Can.” The free program brought speakers from various companies, such as Microsoft and GE, to speak to the young students about pursuing an engineering degree and subsequent career.

Through this club, D’Agosto also acted as a mentor to elementary school children, many of whom were first generation Americans. Each Friday, she would work with 11 students and teach them about engineering.

“That was one of the highlights of my fourth year,” D’Agosto said.

When she graduates on May 18, D’Agosto will head to Spain for a solo trip to Barcelona and to and around Madrid.

“My Spanish is a little rusty,” said D’Agosto, whose mother was born in Spain.

In July, D’Agosto starts work at Deloitte in Washington D.C. as a consultant. She said she enjoys Virginia and the D.C. area, which isn’t as overwhelming as the hectic New York City life.

“I fell in love with the small, Charlottesville feel,” she said.

D’Agosto’s success could be tied to her education at Darien High School, which was ranked one of the best schools in the nation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics by U.S. News & World Report this year. These subjects, known colloquially as STEM, have been declared among the most important in an increasingly globalized society.

• Darien High School drops in rankings, remains best in STEM

“The STEM department at DHS was fantastic and definitely prepared me for engineering at UVA,” D’Agosto stated in an email. She said her biology teacher, Susan Ruegger, and her chemistry teacher, Art Ruggieri, “were both great influences on me.”

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