By Ross Shott
Ross Shott is the CEO of the Conrad Foundation & former Graduate Studies Alum at Singularity University and Carrie Taylor, Education and Outreach Director for the Conrad Foundation.
The often maligned Y-Generation is growing up in an age of abundance with regard to interconnectivity and access to knowledge. For the first time in history, young people have the tools of creation and implementation in their hands.
The question becomes, what responsibility do they have to use these tools to improve the world, to make a positive contribution through the gifts they received?
After all, their abundant inheritance is not limited to the benefits of industrialization, mobile devices, and free online education and collaboration tools. No, their "gifts" also include global health epidemics, dwindling natural resources and environmental disasters of unprecedented proportions - all theirs for the fixing. Yes, advances in technology have enhanced humanity's ability to more efficiently exploit natural resources. Yet alone this improvement isn't enough to provide for the earth's growing population and the rapidly increasing demands for higher standards of living around the globe.
Many of our current and future world innovators are still in high school and they are already hard at work creating solutions to major world challenges.
For example, there are young people researching cures for cancer, developing community-wide interventions for poverty and creating products we use in everyday life.
Seen in isolation the story of an amazing innovation or discovery by a teenager seems like an outlier, a one-off. But when you see them every day, over and over again around the world, you soon recognize it as our new reality. You quickly realize the ability of teens to grasp complicated problems and if given the tools and guidance, they come up with equally elegant solutions. You also begin to understand that these youth are not all prodigies with some rare genetic gift. Genius is a state of mind, not a trait of brain capacity and any teen can get their genius on under the right circumstances.
So how do we harness this creative capacity for the benefit of humanity? How do we unleash the innovative genius of the Y-Generation and what influence does this have on the development of our future workforce?
Everyday life is filled with interactions with technology in a way that has never been experienced by generations before. Jobs descriptions of all types are equally focused on employees with computer and other technological skill sets even at the entry level.
For many young people, entrepreneurship can become the bridge between science education and application of product solutions to global problems. The sooner teens are able to learn the key strategies of innovation, prototyping and commercialization the sooner they will have the ability to solve problems for their community. The "cool" factor of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) really shines through when harnessed to develop sustainable solutions for global problems.
An innovative, contemporary STEM education should become the foundation for everything students will do successfully in the future. Our youth are growing up as digital natives and need similarly based curriculum that will engage them through their K-12 years, college and onward into the workforce. Many new K-12 education models and methodologies are being tried to help entice the pursuit of engineering and science at university. One particularly successful approach is that of the Conrad Foundation and their Spirit of Innovation Challenge.
The Spirit of Innovation Challenge program engages students ages 13 - 18 by challenging them to create a commercially viable product or service to solve a global challenge for the benefit of humanity in one of four categories: Aerospace and Aviation, Cybertechnology and Security, Energy and Environment, and Health and Nutrition.
The Foundation supplies participants with training on innovation and entrepreneurship through a digital resource of videos, webinars, documents and forums. In addition teachers, engineers and executive mentors support the teams directly (in person or by utilizing a social network) as the students progress through the idea-research-implementation competition phases. The free program is supported by a website (available in 60 languages) which enables anyone in the world with internet or mobile access to compete for the $10,000 award in each category.
This STEM enhancement program transforms education through innovation, mentors young leaders, creates local community impact, supports social investment, inspires international collaboration and develops sustainable solutions for global problems.
Student-driven innovation becomes the new standard through this program. For example, one team developed a nutrition bar that states it will fuel brainpower. It was flown and consumed on the International Space Station because if fulfilled all the nutritional and microgravity requirements for NASA astronauts. In the development process the two girls who created the product discovered a patentable process for stabilizing DHA that if licensed could end up funding their college education. This accomplishment earned a trip to the first White House Science Fair where they received recognition from President Obama.
While, what the girls accomplished is commendable, they are one of many participating teams determined to use their imagination to improve their world. Another team from a public high school in one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Philadelphia successfully created a low carbon emissions and ultra-high efficiency alternative fuel vehicle which competed against collegiate and corporate teams. A month after winning the Spirit of Innovation Challenge the team went on to win the 100 mile race at the Green Grand Prix with their vehicle reaching 160 miles per gallon. They also received personal praise from President Obama and they were recently featured on PBS's Frontline in "Fast Times at West Philly High."
Yet another team received an invitation in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State to attend the Rio+20, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The team created a portable water purification system that could be used in disaster relief or areas without infrastructure for clean water resources. So innovative is their product, they were recently awarded the 2012 Heart of Haiti award by the national parliament and plans are in place to distribute the water purification device throughout the country.
No matter the domain in which they choose to create, these youth have the ambition combined with the newly learned skills of entrepreneurship to make a real difference in the world throughout their lifetime.
Saddle up Mavericks!
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.
Follow X PRIZE Foundation on Twitter: www.twitter.com/xprize