A 5th grade student’s school project elevates lighting’s Cool Factor with her research on innovation — all she needed was a mentor.

Over the past decade, lighting industry veterans have fretted over attracting young people to the field. Compared to gaming software, robotics, and mobile app development, could a century-old technology such as lighting hold any appeal for upcoming generations?
While her fellow students in the gifted & talented program at Discovery Elementary School in Kentwood, Mich., chose topics such as prosthetics, cancer research, airplanes, trains, and drones for their long-term research project on “Innovation,” Emela S. [last name withheld for privacy] believed lighting was a worthy subject.

Her inspiration started at home, where she enjoys reading books alongside an LED-powered desk lamp from her dad and loves the “cool lamp that shows a picture of animals as it rotates around” that her mother gave her. Both of the lamps are in her bedroom and among what she considers to be “inspiring and cool things.”

The previous year, Emela’s long-term Innovation Project on bicycles led her to the concept of energy savings. “I learned and researched a lot about efficiency, which is something I focused on for lighting also,” she notes. Besides delving into the history of a topic through books, part of the students’ four-month-long research for their Innovation Projects involves reaching out to members of the industry who could help impart knowledge first-hand. Emela contacted nearly one dozen resources from lighting manufacturers to lighting showrooms nationwide, but only two people wrote back…one of which was industry veteran Judy Ziccardi, a lighting designer and owner of the retail showroom Lighting Innovation in California.

“I received Emela’s email and thought it was adorable. She was looking for any information and materials she could find about lighting so I sent her the Lighting magazine [produced by the ALA and Better Homes & Gardens] and a Schonbek video that detailed the various grades/types of crystal,” Ziccardi says.

Emela was appreciative of Ziccardi’s help and the two began a correspondence about the project [with her parents’ permission]. With the student located in Michigan and the mentor in California, they decided the best way to “talk” more about lighting was through Skype.

“I walked around my showroom so she could see what a lighting showroom looked like and the various types of lighting fixtures in it,” Ziccardi states. “In particular I showed her a chandelier with rock crystal on it up close since the video I had sent mentioned rock crystal.”

The Skype session lasted for 45 minutes and further ignited Emela’s interest in the topic. As part of her 23-page presentation, Emela details the inventors of the light bulb – including the controversy over which person deserves credit – and provides a chronology of technical development, especially the growing importance of LEDs. Along the way, she creatively illustrates her research paper with statistics.

At the project’s completion, Emela confidently spoke in front of her class, teachers, and parents on the topic of “Lighting Innovation” with her project motto: “You’ll leave feeling bright after you learn something about light!”

Accompanying her was an information board illustrating her most important research findings. “I draped light bulbs across it that lit up while I gave the presentation,” she recalls. “People really liked my board and my project. It was different from the ones other people did. Even my teacher thought it was pretty cool.”

Emela is so well-versed in her lighting topic that she just might be considered a budding expert. The students revealed their final projects to an audience of parents and peers. Emela giggles as she recalls, “I was presenting my research to another parent [who was attending the program] and I asked her who she thought invented the light bulb, and she answered, “I don’t know, was it Benjamin Franklin?”

Meanwhile her mentor, Ziccardi, couldn’t be prouder. “I was so disappointed to learn that no one besides myself and another woman [named Suzanne] responded to Emela’s request for information,” Ziccardi remarks. “When it comes to learning, if we can’t take a moment to give back and encourage such a fiery interest in the industry then that is heartbreaking. I got my start at 15 years old doing filing and cleaning chandeliers at a lighting showroom as a part-time job. When I saw this little girl with such a passion to learn about lighting, I just wanted to help her. I understand that we’re all busy, but sometimes that five minutes you give can inspire someone for a lifetime. I think it’s our job to nurture the younger generation. I was really inspired by Emela and her project. With a lot of industry veterans retiring, we need to have young people who truly have a passion for the business instead of just wanting to collect a paycheck. If you are blessed to come across someone who has that passion, it’s an enormous opportunity.”

Emela’s 23-page project can be viewed online at http://lightinginnovations.weebly.com


My name is Emela and I am a fifth grade student at Discovery Elementary School. As part of a school project on innovation, I am gathering information and materials on my topic, the innovation of Lamp Lighting. I am extremely interested in learning more about the topic, and I am hopeful you can help!

As experts in the field of lighting, I am confident that your company will be able to assist me in my research and project development. I am responsible for knowing what innovations had the greatest impact on Lamp Lighting and what innovations are currently impacting the technology. I could make use of any literature you might have or might be willing to suggest for me. In addition, I can make use of any objects that would enhance my ability to understand and present my learning when I share. Please send any artifacts you might be willing or able to provide that would increase the quality of my display. I am particularly interested in the innovation of lamp design, how lighting has evolved, and how the technology works, something that I’ve read about in my research. I would like to understand the advancements in that area better and highlight them in my work.

In addition to collecting resources and information for my final product, I would value the advice of an expert in the field of lighting…I would really like to meet with someone personally to discuss my topic.

I am excited to become more of an expert on Lamp Lighting. I have been reading about the topic daily and am eager to hear back from you.