This is a guest blog article by Curt Cornum of Insight.
High school STEM assistive technology competition connects young innovators with experts in smart devices to solve real-world challenges.
Imagine being asked to create an IoT-enabled minimal viable product (MVP) in less than four weeks and then being given just eight minutes to pitch your solution to a panel of judges. This was the challenge presented to several Valley high-school STEM teams, who excelled at creating and then presenting their projects during a competitive pitch session last Saturday at Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library reminiscent of the “Shark Tank.”
Creativity, teamwork and technical prowess were on display by the students taking part in the inaugural MAKERS of Change Assistive Technology Challenge sponsored by Southwest Human Development and Insight Enterprises. Eight high-school teams spent the last month enhancing assistive equipment originally built by Southwest Human Development’s ADAPT Shop. The overall winning team, the Bronco Boys from Brophy College Preparatory, received a $500 check to use as proceeds to support their technology club. They also have a chance to work with the ADAPT Shop to further develop their solution, a chair with sensors that monitor the movements of a 2-year-old suffering from hypotonia after a near drowning. Other winning teams, like the all-girls team from Education Empowers, Inc. also created an MVP that has a good chance at becoming a commercially viable device.
The ADAPT Shop and its dedicated team of therapists and fabricators provides children 5 and under who have physical disabilities with the tools they need to become independent participants in regular activities enjoyed by others their age. The STEM teams turned that equipment into smart devices for four real-life scenarios experienced by children who are restricted by issues like muscular dystrophy, developmental delays and seizures.
I appreciate Southwest Human Development and Insight for letting me play a part in coordinating the event as well as serving on the judging committee – it’s always rewarding to work with up-and-coming tech enthusiasts, especially when it’s for a good cause.
For some time now, I have been on a mission to help people put the power of technology to work, and doing it through community outreach efforts that in turn strengthen people’s lives makes the mission even more meaningful. MAKERS of Change not only enhances assistive equipment, it gives teenagers a better perspective of STEM-related careers. They are the future of science and technology, and based on the solutions they presented, our future is bright.
I’ve volunteered at a variety of STEM and IoT events – both through my involvement with the Arizona Technology Council and Insight’s Noble Cause program – and there are two aspects that make the MAKERS of Change challenge stand out. First, integrating technology with people and providing an augmented environment to solve their real-world problems is really powerful. The second aspect is that we’re actually benefiting kids with some pretty significant challenges.
I’ve been inspired to become more involved in STEM events because, having seen how rapidly technology has evolved throughout my own career, I know how important it is for future generations to grasp its potential early on. When I was younger, I had a phobia around math; if I had gotten over that fear earlier, I likely would have gotten involved in technology sooner. I want others to realize their potential in this field too, even if they might not initially realize their capabilities.
This is the first event I’ve actually judged, and it’s rewarding to help high-school students think deeper about taking a great concept sketched out on paper and transforming it into a commercially viable solution. Even more gratifying about the MAKERS of Change Assistive Technology Challenge was seeing their passion and hunger to truly help younger children overcome everyday challenges, and using their ingenuity to make it happen.
I hope the students participating in this competition come away with a better sense of what’s possible through technology – and through their own potential. Hopefully they also realize there is a community of technology-based MAKERS out there ready and willing to help them reach their full potential.
The community aspect of MAKERS of Change is a vital part of this event. There’s the digital community and then there’s a broader community impacted by the individuals working with assistive technology. Overall, events like this broaden our views of the meaningful connections created by these solutions, especially coming from the power of young minds.
Curt Cornum is vice president of global business transformation at Insight and chairs the Arizona Technology Council’s IoT committee.