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USF Inventors Shut Out by Gov't Shutdown

Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News

The ongoing inertia in Washington, D.C., is keeping a pair of University of South Florida inventors from appearing at a Smithsonian Institution event--and it isn't the first time it's happened to them.

USF graduate Alexei Novitzky and School of Theatre and Dance academic advisor Merry Lynn Morris were supposed to speak at a weekend conference, “Innovation: Brainstorms, Big Ideas, and the Creative Future," at the Smithsonian, but the government shutdown has forced organizers to cancel the event.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
USF School of Theatre and Dance academic advisor Merry Lynn Morris (right) accompanies Dwayne Scheuneman, who demonstrates Morris' invention, the Rolling Dance/Mobility Chair.

Morris invented the Rolling Dance/Mobility Chair, a power wheelchair that helps people with disabilities dance easier, while Novitzky created the SkateCase, a skateboard that opens up to hold such things as keys, a cell phone or a tablet.

They were among 13 presenters at the event, originally scheduled for Sunday at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building on the National Mall.

Morris says she's disappointed she's had to cancel her plans at the last minute.

"The plane tickets have been done, the hotel done, we've got our itinerary, we've written our speeches, I still have some things that I'm adding to mine, so it's a disappointment in that regard--sort of the build-up of it and looking forward to it," she said.

"I think from a connecting point, it would be a helpful connecting opportunity, but, you know, I'm still grateful for the honor, period," Morris added.

In an email to WUSF, Novitzky voiced similar disappointment, although with a more political tone.

As an innovator, it is somewhat disheartening that the Smithsonian would be closed because of the government shutdown. As a U.S. inventor, it may be considered the highest honor to be chosen to present an invention there... The U.S. was founded on innovation and we need innovators more than ever. Think of every country as a business. The U.S. originally thrived because it was a land of bright ideas, innovators, and people that were willing to work to make their dreams happen... So, as an U.S. innovator, business owner, and citizen I will continue to work hard regardless of governmental issues and strive to make the world a better place.

Morris and Novitzky had also been invited to talk about their inventions at the Smithsonian’s Innovation Expo earlier this year. That event was canceled due to the federal government's sequestration.

Morris hopes the third time will be the charm--the Smithsonian officials she spoke to said they'll attempt to reschedule this weekend's event once the shutdown is done.

WUSF will profile Morris and Novitzky and their inventions on upcoming University Beat segments.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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