Anita’s Blog: Congratulations to NC State NSF Scholars!

author-v2It’s been less than a week since my return from Beijing and, even through the fog that is my yet-unyielding jet lag, I have been thinking a lot about China’s commitment to deepen its science and technology “maker” bench.

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It all makes sense. The nations that lead in the creation of new products, processes and services will be the global economic leaders. But China has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with countries such as ours. Take the announcement of 31 National Science Foundation Scholars selected from NC State University, for example. The program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, recognizing outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. Since 1952, the NSF has funded 50,000 Graduate Research projects to stellar students across the country.

That’s a lot of innovators already at work.

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Anita in China: We have work to do in NC

author-v2I’ve loved the experience of being in Beijing. That said, I am more than ready to be back in North Carolina. It’s time to put my learning to work.

I’ve noted the way government officials, educators and business leaders are working together to build a culture of innovation in China. Take, for instance, the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition (BYSCC). Hundreds of projects on display at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, significant cash prizes, high-level leaders using the opportunity to encourage school teachers, and an award ceremony reminiscent of a Hollywood affair.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair will be held this weekend, at Meredith College in Raleigh.

I’ve been talking to Tom Williams, who is also here in Beijing. He explains our event will be heroically pulled together by a hearty group of volunteers, supported by limited ever-faithful sponsors, and is unlikely to attract the high-level policy officials who should most celebrate its existence. We can change that.

I’m committed to working to support the 2017 North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, to help it reach a new scale. I hope you’ll join me.

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Many thanks to the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center for inviting me to serve as a delegate this year. I’m grateful to my colleagues, to my fellow travelers, and to the wonderful students we went to support. I have many ideas for how to implement the lessons I’ve learned here in North Carolina; I’m off to work!

Anita in China: Treasure, Treasure

author-v2I’m writing to affirm the Chinese proverb, “A nation’s treasures are in its scholars.” I’ve spent days with amazing young people from across the world, and I was most impressed with the four North Carolina students here for the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.

Our students wowed the Chinese judges, and racked up on the medals for their projects.

Meet them:

IMG_0670.JPG-150x150Jonathon Kuo
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Jonathon’s Project: Making and testing a fuel cell that does not require the membrane or many of the other costly components of a traditional ethanol fuel cell, lowering the overall cost of making the cell. By further refining the components of the fuel cell and thus improving the performance, ethanol fuel cells can be made into viable, less expensive sources of energy.

IMG_0671.JPG-150x150.jpegNimit Desai
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Nimit’s Project: Discovering how to selectively activate certain beneficial protein pathways and not activate harmful pathways, thus improving therapeutics for inflammatory disorders and dysregulated T-cell activation, both of which are fundamental to our immune system.

IMG_0465.JPG-150x150.jpegHolly Ren
Enloe High School

Holly’s Project: Developing effective methods to control parasitic nematodes contributing to massive crop loss. Plant parasitic nematodes – microscopic worms that feed on plant cells – cause nearly $100 billion in annual crop loss, making feeding the world’s growing population very difficult. This research can help to develop novel ways to control these parasites.

IMG_0438-150x150.jpgRohan Deshpande
East Chapel Hill High School

Rohan’s Project: Creating a small, inexpensive device, installed invisibly, that accurately tracks the number of people in a room by monitoring its entrance. This could save school districts more than $10,000 annually by reducing wasted electricity consumption, and could lead to savings of more than $160 million annually if installed in all public school restrooms in the United States.

We’re headed back stateside, and while I’ll be sad to say goodbye to our adventures abroad and to these students, I’m confident our future – and the future of North Carolina and its workforce – are safe in their hands.

Anita in China: A Moment of Non-judgment

author-v2I could be anywhere on the globe, hearing academics from every educational level noting that the world their students will face demands new approaches to developing their talent. But I am not just anywhere; I’m in China.

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Our Beijing student interpreters (representing Carolina!)
📷: Keith Poston

Here is a country with over 400 million students, who are today steeped in a system better known for rote memorization than for its creativity.  It feels strange, then, to hear the big, and relatively new ambitions, on totally infusing learning by diving into core pedagogy. I confess to a fleeting sense of skepticism. And then, I am reminded that China reports going from 80 to 3 percent adult illiteracy rates in less than 60 years. With that caliber of track record, who says China can’t become the globe’s maker-nation within a generation?

 

Anita in China: Spanning the Great Wall

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Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering, Google
2015 Emerging Issues Forum

author-v22015 Emerging Issues Forum speaker Ray Kurzweil says nanobots will soon connect our neocortex to the cloud, exponentially expanding our ability to do all sorts of things. I’ve been asking myself all day whether Kurzweil is offering hope for closing the gap between people like myself and the students in delegations from both North Carolina and the Ukraine with whom I spent most of the day; I’ll share more about their exciting research agendas, and my quest to fully understand them, later this week.

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The four NC students at the Great Wall
(📷: Keith Poston)

Today, I want to share some personal observations as we walked the Great Wall of China. First, both groups moved quickly across the awe-inspring feat of ancient architecture. Call it youthful energy if you’d like, but I saw their purposeful gait from the very first step as something different. I saw sheer, unadulterated determination. Second, although I was super-impressed by my own climb of four towers (filled with all the huffing and puffing the moment demanded), I took great undeserved pride in the fact that both student delegations completed the full eight-tower trek. These students do not half-step. They are conscientious about all they do. Finally, I find myself replaying several scenes reflecting the students’ uncommon, but complete, openess to the new experience. There were several reasons one could find to be cranky, but the students fully embraced the experience, all while laughing and talking comfortably with each other, as well as with random strangers they encountered along the way. It was a joy just to watch.

The personal traits of determination, concientousness and openess predict great futures for these students. Mr. Kurzweil, please forgive the limitations of my imagination, but I just can’t see how hooking my brain up to the cloud helps me to get to where they’re headed in life.

Anita in China: Day One

author-v2Greetings from China!

IMG_0443-300x300A long day of travel to Beijing, but worth every minute of time spent getting to know two generations of educational leadership in North Carolina. First, four amazing emerging leaders: NCISC Scholars Holly Ren, Nimit Desai, Jonathon Kuo, and Rohan Deshpande. These small giants are here to showcase their prowess in the 36th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition. After just twenty-four hours with them, it’s clear no competition will capture a fraction of their potential to take our state leaps forward in other aspects of life.

I am equally honored to be with another group of leaders, those focused on learning from this experience so that thousands of other young people in North Carolina have opportunities to meet their own potential to be small giants. Keith Poston is the president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina; Tom Williams is chair of the Board of Trustees for the NC School of Science and Mathematics; and Gena Renfrew leads the Biogen Foundation’s work to support science education in North Carolina. We are joined by coordinators Dr. Fran Nolan – leader of the delegation and Executive Director of the NC Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative – and Robin Bergeron-Nolan of Guilford County Schools, apparent heroes in Beijing for their many years of support for this competition.

This is going to be a unique viewpoint from which to consider the possibilities ahead for FutureWork.

Anita