When Danielle Goodfellow from the Office of Innovation and Community Engagement at Saint Mary’s University invited me to attend an event that showcased the top science fair projects from across the province, I immediately said yes. Even though the event was mid-day, and two days before leaving on vacation, I felt I had to make room my calendar.
At first, I said yes for purely sentimental reasons. I was taken back to my own participation in the provincial science fair, the hours of preparation, and the social events I missed while putting the finishing touches on it. I remember buying a special pen and a brand new bottle of White-Out with a sponge tip (this is was the provincials after all) for the inevitable mistakes I was likely to make while writing out my hypothesis, methodology and conclusions by hand. I remember drawing lines on white paper in pencil, so I could write in ink but erase the pencil lines, so it looked like I was skilled enough to write in cursive in a straight line. I then faked shadow boxes with lime green construction paper like I had seen my teacher do so many times on the bulletin board in the classroom.
When I walked into the auditorium last month, there wasn’t a piece of construction paper in sight, and nary a cursive stroke anywhere. What I did see where larger than life, professionally produced poster presentations the likes of which I haven’t seen since I last attended a health conference. All the students were proudly wearing SMU Faculty of Science student jackets, with Nova Scotia on the back. They were set to represent our province at the nationals and they were going to look good doing it.
When I looked more closely, what I saw was passion, commitment, and inspiration – not often seen as a working professional. These students knew their topic and had clearly done the academic work required to get there. What blew my mind was the topics they chose. This group of bright minds were attempting to solve real-world problems, like using oysters as natural water purifiers, using food waste to create a leather alternative, creating injury preventing supports for ballet shoes, and – my favourite – a facial recognition app for people with early onset Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t help but wonder what these young minds will accomplish in their lives. Will these projects be a mere stepping stone to great inventions that save our planet or allow a Grandpa to remember his Grandson the next time they meet?
What started off as a “should-do” calendar scramble and, let’s be honest, a self-serving trip down memory lane, turned into one of the most inspiring days of the year.
Several years ago, I had been doing work with a provincial senior leadership group and we had invited some youth to talk about their needs and interactions with the health care system. I remember a quote from one of the youth participants that said, “We are not the future, we are here now, so that makes us part of the present, let us help.” I find synergy between that quote and the students preparing to go to the National Science fair competition.
The remarkable focus students are able to devote to researching and hypothesizing solutions to real-world problems seems to be a well of possibility – a well that we as multitasking, over-scheduled, under-slept adults need to sit next to more often. I don’t (yet) have a way to do that more often in my own life or within my company but you can bet I’ll be thinking about how I can recognize and credit students with being part of the present more often. Will you?