Wow – a $120,000,000 commitment in times like these???

Intel Foundation has just announced its largest single commitment in the 20 year history of the Foundation. With this, Intel Science Talent Search is funded through 2016 and the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair through 2019. These programs of the Society for Science & the Public offer tens of thousands of students in the US and around the world a chance to push on the boundaries of science and innovation in very real and important ways.

But how can it be a good idea, you might ask, for Intel to make such a financial commitment in the midst of such economic turmoil?? The short answer: How could we not??

The longer answer: Intel believes – and has demonstrated time and again the validity of this belief – that, “You don’t save your way out of a recession. The only way out is through investment.” We consider both Intel ISEF and Intel STS to be long-term, strategic investments in the future of innovation, which is the lifeblood of our company.

The great news is that this investment is every bit as valuable for the students who get the opportunity to ‘do’ science – not just read about it – as it is for Intel. Participation in authentic research is a powerful means of engaging students in science and engineering education and careers. It unleashes students’ creativity and gives a very tangible answer to the question, “Why do I have to learn this stuff??” Celebrating and nurturing students’ success cannot help but engage them in the world of science, innovation and ideas – to their benefit and to ours. An exciting component of the new grants is a new Outreach initiative to increase participation among underrepresented populations: minority students, inner city dwellers, and students in parts of the US and the world not currently well-represented.

This investment is also valuable for schools and school systems. As they are inspired to offer their students rich and authentic learning experiences, preparing them for success in these competitions, that success gives those schools a real-time feedback loop that reinforces their investment: A virtuous cycle of inspiration and innovation.

This investment is valuable for the scientists who serve as judges and are inspired and refreshed by this contact with the next generation of innovators. Every year they tell me that they see work by these high school students that is on par with PhD-level research at top universities. And that inspiration is mutual.

And it is valuable for governments – local, state and national. Investment in these programs helps governments build strong communities of scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators who will stimulate and strengthen their economies with real ideas, innovations and ultimately businesses – probably the most powerful way for all of us to break out of this economic doldrums brought about by a focus on moving paper money around instead of focusing on tangible research and innovation.

So should Intel be making such a big commitment in such parlous economic times? You betcha!

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