“Are you kidding me?” She must have said it like five times. She was one of the educators that was invited and flown to Georgia by Intel to participate in Intel’s educator academy telling me about a gift basket from Intel now in her hotel room. Included within was some cash — straight up cash – for expenses. “Not a gift card,” she emphasized, “cash. – Are you kidding me!” she asked. Four words that had been running through my mind all week. Let me elaborate:
I mean, seriously, what am I doing here? $100,000,000 a year spent on Education? Is this for real? Tens of millions more in long term sponsorship for a science and engineering fair? Where am I? Who does this? Don’t get me wrong, I did a lot of pro bono at my old law firm Bingham McCutchen, and they were a fantastic corporate citizen, but this is a whole new universe of Corporate Social Responsibility.
I was privileged to have witnessed a week of magic at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair. Two hours ago, the event capped off with grand prizes and awards, and although I didn’t have a dog in the race, so to speak, I was on an emotional roller coaster nonetheless. Wow! Are you kidding me?
I am still coming down off the high and wanted to capture my thoughts, while I was here in Atlanta (read: Oz) before I fly back to Santa Clara (Kansas).
As I catch my breath, let me recount some the highlights:
Two memorable moments from the Intel Educator Academy Student Panel as they discussed challenges and triumphs of their journey (read: The Life as a Genius Panel)
Day 1: Opening Ceremonies:
- A teacher is asking how we, in academia, should spot the few talented ones – like you — in our classes? A 16 year old Chinese student answers (and I am paraphrasing here what she said, but you could feel exactly what she was saying and it felt like this): Rather than looking for the talent, you should cultivate it, have activities that are different that appeal to the talent that necessarily exists in all kids. We are all diamonds, just shine us, mold us, and give us a space where we can sparkle. (Bravo, you sweet brilliant human being! A pin dropped far in the corner of the room and everyone heard it. Kleenex anyone?)
- In response to a question on how he is dealing with the sacrifices he necessarily (the questioner assumed) made in the social arena like friends and parties while he researched in a college lab while juggling high school: My mom is a single parent and I have learned a lot about work life balance. My twin brother is captain football team and I am president of my speech and debate team this year. I also have a rule that I don’t do research on Friday and Saturday nights. I may stay up till 4 AM on other nights but on Friday and Saturday I just chill with friends. [High Schoolers are talking work life balance? I only heard about it in law school for the first time (and btw, just shoot me because you are so sure of your self that you decided not to apply to Harvard because you didn't want to go there when (not if) you got in there.)]
Doc B runs onto stage to a rousing rock star welcome and throws memorabilia to adoring fans; they even ask him for the hat off his head. Some kids even fought each other for his sweaty hand towel. Seriously? The chairman of Intel – a huge icon for teenagers? It’s Intel ISEF, baby, and if you don’t know Dr. Barrett, you don’t know nothin! The Society for Science and the Public’s science and engineering fair has been around for over 50 years and Intel has been the grand sponsor for over a decade; Doc B has been a fixture at every single one since Intel came on board. He exudes passion; he lives for this stuff. He is jumping around on stage, high-fiving everyone, and even though the kids could probably graph the change in amplitude of a sinusoidal wave in their sleep, they put their pencils aside and rise up under Doc B’s guidance and perform a human wave that races around the cavernous Georgia World Congress Convention Center. Intel ISEF is just one of a myriad of projects Intel and Intel Foundation support to engender a love for math and sciences for youth all around the world.
Doc B introduces Phillipe Cousteau Jr., a veritable icon in his own right, but also grandson to legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. Phillipe, cofounder of Earth Echo International, continues the work of his father and grandfather by educating the public about environmental and conservation issues while inspiring individuals to become better stewards of the planet. On top of all that he has accomplished for the planet …his rugged good looks have the ladies going doubly wild! Can someone turn up the AC in here? Phillipe explained that studying the underwater ecosystem took a back seat to space exploration in the late 60s. And now, he lamented, we devote millions trying to figure out if Mars ever had water in the first place when Earth may soon lose all of its usable water. Water really is the next oil. (Talk about inspiring young minds to do something.)
After that, half a dozen Nobel laureates, living legends in their fields, are acknowledged for their contributions. They are later featured on a panel where they doled out advice and inspiration by the kilo. The Governor of Georgia comes out to say hello and pay respects to the assembled crowd and the night gets better and better as introductions are made of the participating regions -almost like the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Each of the 51 countries, regions and territories that are participating at ISEF have ethnically/regionally clad representatives.
The stage is full, the crowd is going wild and we learn that over 1557 students will be judged and considered for the over $4 million in cash and prizes to be given out over the week for 17 categories of entries.
To paraphrase Doc B’s resonant message: Get a good education and have personal integrity. No one can take those away from you. They will open more doors for you than wealthy parents or influential connections ever could.
The marathon walk through:
Doc B has been pre-scheduled to visit 5 or 6 projects. As he walks from one exhibit to another, he is inundated by unscheduled teens clamoring for him to check out their project as well. And you know what, he goes and visits the exhibits for every student who asks him to! He just flew in from like the Middle East, has to do two interviews with CNN later today, and then flies off to Jakarta in less than 14 hours. Yet, he walks around miles of booths to witness all the kids’ projects. He engages the kids, asks them on-the-money questions, makes them laugh and gives them his undivided attention. Parting with sincere words of encouragement, he poses for dozens of pictures, signs autographs and then moves on to the next lucky student who is fortunate to host Doc B. The award ceremonies are a week away but he leaves these kids gushing like they’ve already won!! Hardly anyone in his entourage can keep up with him, and this 68 year old former Stanford professor and former Intel CEO has every reason to have throngs of groupies flock him!
Heck, with about 150 salaried people working on Education initiatives like Intel ISEF, Intel Learn, Intel Teach and Intel Clubhouse, I keep asking myself if this chip company is for real. Let me get this straight: Intel sells microprocessors, right? And yet they have flown approximately 120 educators and dignitaries from about 25 countries participate in an Educator Academy to share best known methods for increasing the efficiency of the impact of Intel’s teaching initiatives; like Intel Teach, that has already trained over 5,000,000 (yeah that says 5 million) teachers worldwide. Seriously?
The Science Fair:
I stroll through the booths and catch myself looking down, thinking to myself, “Don’t make eye-contact; just like animals that sense fear, they’ll see right through you and know how dumb you are.” These kids were amazing, I mean, I graduated from the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, but still I felt totally small walking through those hallways. Then, far away I saw the title of a booth that looked like I could maybe engage with the student. Stage-Specific Expression of Peroxidase Enzymes. It seemed innocuous, I had taken Molecular Cell Biology at Berkeley and I knew enzymes… but as I got closer, there was more to the sign:
Stage-Specific Expression of Peroxidase Enzymes In Wound-healing Potato Tubers
This kid was studying stages of enzyme expression in wound-healing potatoes! Are you kidding me?
I took a picture of the sign and kept walking.
The range of entries ran the gamut: yes there were robots and hovercrafts (par for the course), but also some really ingenious ones. Two examples:
There was the boy who built a device that makes a computer cursor move with impulses from your brain; instead of putting sensors in your brain itself, he made a machine that reads signals through your forehead. He said plainly it made sense to have people avoid putting sensors on/in their brain if it could be done on the outside. (Of course, my friend, of course it does).
Two 14 year old Gujarati girls made markers with bio degradable non-toxic ink made out of vegetable products. Just as bright as regular markers, super affordable, and on the upside if your toddler accidentally sucks on the highlighter… no worries: just skip juice-time.
Day 5: Awards ceremonies
Potential energy fills the halls, as if a thunder bolt could spontaneously manifest from all the different charges in the auditorium. At the one extreme, some contestants are wound so tight that even though only the top 15% of the kids get 1st or 2nd place, the girl sitting behind me who got second place couldn’t stop crying because she won second place instead of first. She genuinely expected to win: she had never lost. On the other hand, there were those kids who were soaking it all up and were just glad to be there regardless of how they finished. There was a whole lot of regional pride. Flags waving and people chanting and singing in different languages; it truly was a cultural experience.
An anxious audience, with parents perspiring, teachers tearing up, and students slowly reacting, shocked into disbelief, “Was that really my name?” Whole sections of people exploding when the name of the region was called out pushing their winner out into action and up on stage. Unbelievable! There is the tiny kid, the giant one, the nerdier than all hell one standing right next to the one who could’ve been a model; next up are the two teammates still holding each others’ trembling hands. There’s the kid from Denmark crying tears of joy, and the girl from the Midwest crying only because he is crying. The Puerto Rican who is proudly holding up the flag while Argentina is in the house screaming, and don’t forget the guys from Mankato, Michigan. At graduation ceremonies, I usually know at least one person, here I didn’t know anyone and yet, I would trade any graduation ceremony for this awards ceremony.
Last thoughts – Imagine, Discover, Innovate – the theme of Intel ISEF
a world where kids outnumbered adults, and enthusiasm and hope filled the air. That is the place where I lived this last week at Intel ISEF. I discovered
so much about what the company does for education. It is no wonder Intel has won so many Corporate Social Responsibility awards. Intel is constantly innovating
the way it implements its educational initiatives. For example, check out the credentials of one of the speakers: he had done his PhD working on supercomputers but soon after spent a couple years in helping set up community computing in the rural mountain regions of Thailand, then he did a couple of years doing computer training in Southern India (before Bangalore was Bangalore), and now he is studying the use of internet and computers in the healing of communities in post conflict regions – he is working in post civil war Liberia. These kinds of people actually exist, I shook his hand and he was for real; he shared lessons from his experiences with the Intel Educators. He pointed out that as education in a country increases, so does its GNP, its average life expectancy and so much more. That’s when it clicked – education is where it all begins, it’s where dollars spent can have the most impact. It all starts to make sense now.
I know I am only employee number 1126###5 and have had merely 10 office days under my belt at Intel; but if this is working for the man, than I am prouder than hell to work for this man. And seriously, I am not