Last week President Obama spoke at Facebook, emphasizing during the townhall that the US needs to be bullish on Science and Math education if we are to pull out of the recession, “We want to start making Science cool. I want people to feel about the next big energy breakthrough and the next big Internet breakthrough the same way they felt about the moonwalk,” he said.
Taking off on that idea, Nancy Conrad, the wife of late astronaut Pete Conrad, has founded the Conrad Foundation in the memory of her husband. Peter was expelled from one school in the 11th grade because he had dyslexia and then went on to graduate from Princeton and walk on the moon because he was taken under the wing of another educator who saw promise in the young man.
Nancy Conrad wants to give other kids with a penchant for entrepreneurship their “moon shots,” or the opportunity to get funding and actualize their ideas; Because of this the Conrad Foundation puts on the Spirit of Innovation Awards and Innovation Summit annually, attempting to foster a love of innovation in kids between the ages of 13 and 18.
To attend the Innovation Summit, high schoolers across the country are invited to enter the three year old competition, which ends up flying in 27 finalists to NASA Ames to pitch their startups to judges in one of three categories: Aerospace Exploration, Clean Energy and Cyber Security. The winning team in each category receives a 5K grant to fund their project.
While building the “innovative workforce of the 21st century” is an ambitious goal, after attending the extremely professional finalist presentations today it’s obvious that spotlighting kids who have a passion for innovation and technology is a fundamental step in turning our education system around.
“There’s so many problems, we’re not running out of problems,” Conrad said emphasizing that you need to get kids excited about Science, Math and Technology in order build a viable workforce. “When you’ve got juiced kids who really want to do something, they don’t know there’s a box. And then all they do is think outside the box. This is where geeks turn into rockstars, and that’s the game changer. That’s where you can change the culture of students.”
Hmm … So maybe Intel was right?