Time and again, news reports remind us that the U.S. has lost its competitive edge and faces an uphill climb in the 21st century to regain and maintain its innovative leadership. We're constantly told that America is a country that doesn’t produce anything anymore, is on the decline, or lacks ingenuity. While these arguments make for convenient headlines, ITI member Microsoft did a lot to dispel those myths this past weekend.
As part of the presidential inauguration weekend festivities, Microsoft hosted a reception that highlighted new and creative research in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Six groups from around the country descended on Washington to showcase their new ideas, and in keeping with this year’s inaugural theme, “Faith in America’s Future,” four of the presenting groups were made up of scientists who haven’t yet graduated high school.
The youngest demonstrator, a clever 11-year old, not only programs computers but also regularly communicates with the international space station with little more than a metal tape measure acting as a crude antenna. A trio of high school girls showed off a computer program they developed in middle school that uses video gaming strategies to sharpen math skills. Another pair of high school girls, one of which is already enrolled in a cybersecurity-intensive curriculum, shared their research on improving drone technologies. And as a football fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the high school girl who, because of the growing number of concussions on the football field, decided to research new helmet technologies and subsequently patented her new discovery.
The two remaining demonstrators have been key voices in the STEM discussion, both striving to find creative avenues to get kids involved in STEM. Change the Equation, a leading STEM education advocate, showcased its new iON Future, which was created to help spark STEM interest in adolescents. Finally, the Discovery Channel shared its e-learning technologies, allowing students to ditch the books in favor of a more interactive, online learning experience.
These stories are just a very small fraction of what is taking place around the country. If given the opportunity, young minds with unbridled imagination will absolutely lead us on our nation’s uphill climb as the next great American innovators. Parents and teachers alike should do everything in their power to ensure that creativity is fostered at a young age. And for those kids not yet interested in STEM, it’s a good thing groups like Change the Equation and the Discovery Channel are prepared to help spur an interest.