Inspiring Innovators

Dean Kamen has a track record that makes it compelling to listen to him when he talks about innovation. The founder of DEKA Research and Development Corp. has invented the insulin pump, a portable dialysis machine, the iBot mobility system, the Segway people mover, a prosthetic arm for DARPA, and a self-contained water cleaning and purification system, among other things.

Kamen believes the United States is lagging behind other countries in terms of educating and inspiring our youth to become innovators. We take invention for granted because we have so much technology around us. However, in developing countries, people are willing to take risks at much lower investment levels.

The US has the lowest percentage of kids going into science and technology in the world. We also have the highest percentage of kids dropping out of high school in the world. “Innovation should be thought of as a gift from one generation to the next,” Kamen says.

One generation enjoys the benefits of the previous generations' innovations, but it must create new innovations to support the successive generation. Kamen believes we have a culture problem where it is the tech industry — not lawyers and politicians — that needs to support a long-term serious commitment to science and technology.

Kamen says we need to get involved in fostering enthusiasm in science and technology in children. Through a program named First, Kamen makes science and engineering more fun. A Brandeis University study showed that First program alumni are 50 percent more likely to go to college than their peers, and twice as likely to major in science and engineering. To learn more about how you can get involved, go to

15 comments on “Inspiring Innovators

  1. kg5q
    May 25, 2011

    Every few weeks I see an article about how the youth are now somehow less interested or qualifed in science, math, engineering, innovation – what have you.  Usually these articles mention how china graduates some unholy number of engineers compared to us. Then we blame the youth for being somehow “less than” we were.  They are lazy, stupid what have you.    Nobody is discussing the root cause.    Let me float an alternate theory.  Who is inspiring them? We had a functional NASA space program in the 60's- what do they see? We are going to be riding Russian spacecraft since we don’t have anything operational today.  NASA is not a driver like it was in the 60's its a governmental entitlement and diversity program that cant deliver the goods any more.  If dad is an engineer at today’s companies the youth see that dad works for the equivalent of the pointy haired boss in the Dilbert cartoons.  Dads boss is likely not an engineer but a paper pusher who views the world through excel and PowerPoint reports because the boss does not understand or have a passion for the products any longer.  Finance and Lawyers are running our companies (and like our government poorly by the way) and Engineers are the equivalent of steel or auto workers. Fungible assets on spread sheets to be compared with our Indian and Chinese (so much better- counterparts)  Why would kids be interested?  They see dads job outsourced to third world countries, downsizing companies going to “an ODM Model” corporate codeword speak for outsourcing the design and the Chinese can steal and copy our work done here – making our finance guys think of course oerseas are so much better at design than we are and make a fraction of what you have to pay somone in the Americas– well we have to play be the rules here they do not – IP theft and patent and trademark issues, counterfeit parts etc are rampant there. .  I think our kids are smarter than we give credit – they say why do I want to sign up for that – I will go get a finance degree, become a hedge fund trader, or manbe a lawyer, or work in HR and tell the engineers what to do and its a heck of a lot less work.  Where are the leaders in government and industry?  they are too focused on furthering themselves – getting re-elected, “driving the stock price” or whatever they do vs inspiring our youth to innovate anything. My thinking is don’t blame it on the youth – its simple supply and demand… there is no demand for it here so they choose otherwise.  Without good leadership the next generation is not going to innovate especially if they don’t see a payoff and some ROI for focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. VS other more lucrative career options. Medicine is another area where the same effect is taking place – every doctor when I ask them if they would recommend medicine to their children says “no way” because guess what… the same guys are wrecking medicine – finance, lawyers, the governmental interference, (and the 7500 page obamacare document looming)  insurance companies – kids do not see any ROI in that now either. Who is going to fix it? The foxes now guarding the hen house – and they have no incentive to! Its working out great for them. Unless a lot of things change dont look for innovation from the US unless it comes from Finance and Lawyers and I am pretty sure I have never seen that happen. 

  2. Anna Young
    May 25, 2011

    Good idea to inspire and challenge the young ones to remain in school and commit to math and science as young budding scientist and future innovators.

    In as much as we blame the politicians, a lot lies in the hands of the parents and schools to work together.

    I have seen more of gifted and talented programme springing up in schools across United Kingdom to encourage and foster the science minded children.

    The programme is tailored to individual children gifts and abilities through 1-1 tutoring followed by either a team project or individual project leading to the final school assessments.

    Whilst on this programme children are encouraged to participate on field works and various organized visits to industries etc.

    I have found that the teaching in schools needs to be made more fun and challenging. Too much concentration on paper works rather than excursions and field works visits to industries to allow these kids to have a first hand experience in these fields. Also, more emphasis should be placed on work placements in science and technological projects to foster interest amongst the readily budding scientist and encouraged less gifted and talented ones to pursue science too.


  3. Jay_Bond
    May 26, 2011


    I have to agree completely that the U.S. is lagging seriously in the Science and Technology fields in regards to education and interest from today’s students. The problem is a wide spread issue. There is no one simple fix, and there is no certain person to blame. Educators, parents, the government and the media need to all help each other out and help these kids understand the importance of education and innovation. Help them understand that without their generation stepping forward and taking control of their own destiny's, the technology they take for granted will slowly disappear.

  4. Tim Votapka
    May 28, 2011

    Ask a group of youngsters to name the top 3 hitters on any pro baseball team. They'll nail it. Ask the same kids to name 3 Nobel Peace Price winners in Science. Watch the lag. This is one of the things that drives Dean Kamen's motivation to advance the FIRST program.

  5. Kunmi
    May 29, 2011

    It is unfortunate that Science education is lagging in the USA today. I want to believe that the problem has a solution which will involve  the roles of parents/teachers/Government simultaneously. The involvement of parents in their childen education is quite low. It is also difficult to blame parents because some may not have any clue to what is being taught. The pressure of how to put the food on the table for the kids, the bill payments and all other environmental challenges had contributed to socio – academic prblems that we are facing. Young ones that failed to respect teachers and other educators can not reveive the best from that teacher. To embrace Science and technology amoung the younger generation will call for sober reflection and humility and a willingness to learn in all our schools children. Government involvement in terms of financial support, policy that instill disciple in students can turn the boat in the right direction.

  6. Kunmi
    May 29, 2011

    I absolutely agreed with you. The bulk of the problems are not from this children. I met a mom and her grade 11 student in a physicians office one day and someone was asking the young man what he will be specializing on in the college. You may be surprized that he had no clue of what his life aspiration is. The so called mom was cracking up ” I guess he will know when he gets to final year”. I just noded that they have a long way to go. How many students are out there without a strong, clear headed and true guidance/parents. It is painful that we have a lot of network of problems that are killing the morales of the younger generation. Outsourcing of jobs is like outsourcing the future strength of the coming generation. Teen pregancy is allowed in high schools: what a policy that burries talent and potential to do better in life? Looking at it at the granular level, the current generation (adults) need to wake up to the truth because of our self-centeredness and the grid for fame and profit. We need to make a u-turn in order to help our young ones.

  7. SunitaT
    May 29, 2011

    To embrace Science and technology amoung the younger generation will call for sober reflection and humility and a willingness to learn in all our schools children.

    I totally agree with you Kunmi. Passion and willingness to learn are absolute must in school childrens. If students start understanding the concept of maths and science willingness to explore more comes automatically. Congratulation to Kamen for taking up this task of fostering enthusiasm in science and technology in children.

  8. mario8a
    May 29, 2011


    Unfortunately in the US the parents are too worry for making their youngs happy and tyhe biggest mistake is to provide for them even after college.

    I agree with some of the comments that is required an effort from parents/teacher/govement, however if parents do not inforce education teachers and goverment will get no attention.

    I hope this generation realize early enough they have to be innovators of their own future

    I really like this quote, who wrote originally?

    To embrace Science and technology amoung the younger generation will call for sober reflection and humility and a willingness to learn in all our schools children.


  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 30, 2011

    The best way to attract the kids to the Science and technology is to have much attractive rewards for them to learn, and also huge rewards to  the achievers in those field. Tke kids get attracted to the Baeball players or the Football players or the Hollywood actors or those F! drivers , because they see these people earning huge amount of money, fame and enjoying rich life style. Whereas the people pursuing Science/Technology or maths  are potrayed as simple living, sometimes eccentric people. This mindset is in parents also. We have to portray Science and technology as a career with a lot of glamour, a lot of rewards and a way to a decent lifestyle. Then and then only the parents & kids will get motivated to choose this as their career. Once a choice is made the necesary hard work is done automatically to achieve your goals.

  10. Tim Votapka
    May 30, 2011

    I've been involved with at least 5 regional FIRST events on Long Island. I can tell you first hand the kids who do participate experience a dramatic change in their viewpoints toward science and technology. For one thing, they blow through any false data they have that suggested it couldn't be enjoyable. More importantly though, they overcome 3 primary barriers to study:

    1. Lack of Mass

    2. Gradient is Too Steep

    3. Misunderstood Words or Symbols

    FIRST works so well because the program is so hands on, and because it helps team members understand the purpose of each component they work with.

  11. Tim Votapka
    May 30, 2011

    You raise an excellent point, and there are many aspects to this:

    Confront – the ability to face something without flinching.

    Responsibility – the willingness and ability to confront intentions and counter-intentions of others.

    Ethics – the willingness to make decisions and actions based on the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics.

    When a parent finds it amusing that her son lacks self-determination and motiviation, she's not confronting. When a youngster seems apathetic toward a career choice (or even a hobby for that matter), he's either been invalidated too many times to or has taken a loss on a failure and now feels less willing to try. If you think about it, there's a good chance this has happened to most of the people you know in school, in business and everywhere else.


  12. Tim Votapka
    May 30, 2011

    Oh and by the way, FIRST has had such great success with this program on a high school level, organizers have expanded the program to include the middle school bracket with a Lego League variation on the idea. Run a Google on it when you get a chance and you'll see what I mean.

  13. Himanshugupta
    May 31, 2011

    @Tvotapka, this is not a bad trait in general for one to know more than just one's immediate field of expertise or study but i think what you want to convey is that the student's interest and focus is very negligible on the Science and Technology. I blame education system and immediate surrounding. Until and unless there is a good promotion and incentive to work hard, the chances that young generation will come up in Science are slim.

  14. Himanshugupta
    May 31, 2011

    @prabhakar_deosthali you nicely summarize what our government should do to make education more technology oriented. We not only need good role models but also more lucrative, for example easy to get funds for research and less bureaucratic.

  15. stochastic excursion
    May 31, 2011

    One thing that would help children's achievement across the board in the US is to get the street gangs and drug traffickers out of our schools.  There has been large volumes of words said on this issue and the problem has gotten worse, not better.  Why is this?

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