Friday, October 11, 2013

Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Abstracts Due October 24

For me, it is hard to not be passionate about the mission of the Conrad Foundation. We host the Spirit of Innovation Challenge - a legacy program honoring Apollo Astronaut and third man to walk on the moon, Pete Conrad. Not a lot of people know, that while Pete experienced great success as an adult, he had a really difficult time in school because he had dyslexia at a time when learning disorders were not widely understood. Luckily, Pete had a  teacher who saw something special in him and helped get him focused on engineering and math, which at the time did not require a lot of reading. This teacher gave Pete his moon shot – and that’s what we try to do for students worldwide through the Spirit of Innovation Challenge.

One of my favorite parts of the program is that we strive to create relevance for what students are learning in the classroom. We believe it is vital that students understand that the application of what they learn can equate to products and services that can benefit humanity. 

As part of the Spirit of Innovation Challenge, we ask parents and teachers, just like Darci, the STEM Mom, to give their students the chance to make a difference by combining STEM and with innovation and entrepreneurship.  We want them to think beyond the classroom and put their ideas in motion. It is amazing the amount of ingenuity students have when someone gives them an opportunity to “Get Their Genius On”.

At the Conrad Foundation, we try to foster education as diplomacy. We have expanded the program to reach all 50 states and 72 countries. As part of the Spirit of Innovation Challenge, students learn how to work collaboratively, think like an innovator and develop skills that will stay with them for the rest of their life.

Our theme this year is “You are the solution. Design things that matter.”  I believe, when given the opportunity, young people prove time and again they are capable of so much compassion, creativity and the ability to solve problems. One of my favorite examples is from a team in Florida that developed a water filtration system that is now in place in a clinic in Nigeria. A team of five created a product that is helping a population of 500,000. Every day in our online community, I see the ideas presented by these young adults and I am amazed by their thoughtful and unique approach to problem solving. I hope you will be, too.

I invite you to participate in this year’s challenge. There is still time for students to get their abstracts completed before the Oct. 24 deadline. I recommend you start with a creative brainstorm, then have the students answer the four abstract questions about the team’s product or service and submit. It may be the best experience they will have as a high school student and it’s free!

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