This is part 1 in a two-part series with Nancy Conrad.
Knowing that anything was possible in the early days of space exploration allowed thinking to be free from the conventional. Young people were inspired to think of how we might go to the stars. High schoolers became college students, who became the engineers in mission control when we landed on the moon. They were encouraged to not just think outside the box, but to discard “the box” altogether.
As we look to return to space, Nancy Conrad and her Conrad Foundation have brought back the original space-age spirit of innovation. I sat down with Nancy recently to discuss her foundation’s efforts to encourage unconventional thinking and solutions to difficult problems. “There's in-the-box thinking and out-of-the-box thinking ─ then there is no-box thinking,” says Nancy. “And that’s where the Conrad Foundation comes in.” She is scheduled to participate as an analyst on two different panels during FETC 2019 in Orlando from January 27th to the 30th, discussing ways to invite students to create technologies for use in the classrooms.
There was no box when JFK challenged us to reach the moon before the decade was out in the 1960s. We didn't know how to do anything; we had only launched one manned flight at that time, and Alan Shepard in Mercury’s Freedom 7 hadn’t even reached orbit. We had seven astronauts who hadn’t flown in space. We had basic rockets, and we were still quite a distance from the moon. Entire systems and complicated procedures that weren’t yet conceived of in 1962 had to be created and invented from the ground up and live-tested on the job.
That lack of the fear of “rocking the boat” of convention will be critical to innovation in the future. “I think it's going back into that mindset of realizing there is no box and you can create solutions to global and local challenges,” Nancy says. She says that the sweet spot for the work the Conrad Foundation does is simply opening the aperture of a student’s own mind to what is possible by tearing down conventional barriers and obstacles. “We're prisoners of our own minds if we don't open that gateway to learning,” Nancy says. “I think that's the real opportunity for education.”
“These kids are so smart,” Nancy marvels. “They're the ones who really understand technology. They were babies when technology bloomed, and they've grown up with it.” She and the Conrad Foundation are planning their major annual event, the Conrad Challenge, in which students become entrepreneurial problem-solvers, addressing challenging social, scientific and societal issues through creativity and critical-thinking. Student teams develop innovations and learn how to turn them into commercially-viable businesses that will change the world. When innovators get together, there is no such thing as impossible.
“That's the mindset that we had when we went to the moon,” Nancy says. “It's definitely the mindset that I think we need to look at now.”
About Nancy Conrad
Nancy Conrad created the Conrad Foundation in 2008 to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. The organization’s flagship program, the Conrad Challenge, is a global competition challenging students to combine education, innovation and entrepreneurship to create products that address real-world challenges and global sustainability.
By enabling young minds to connect education, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Foundation helps provide a bold platform for enriching the innovative workforce of the future. As a leader in transformative education, she has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology detailing how the Conrad Foundation exemplifies the use of partnership and mentorship to improve STEM education.
She has been named one of the top 100 leaders in STEM Education. Ms. Conrad serves on the Board of Directors of the Presidential Scholars.
Follow Nancy Conrad on Twitter.
The Conrad Challenge is an annual, multi-phase innovation and entrepreneurial competition that encourages young adults to leave their mark on the world. Each year, teams of 2-5 students, ages 13-18, from around the globe create products and/or services that address some of the most pressing global challenges. The registration process for the 2018-19 Challenge is open from August 24 - October 19, 2018. Register your team today at www.conradchallenge.org!