We have one more iFp Saturdays session and it will be a wrap for the year.  Coordinating and planning 15 separate stand-alone activities has been a tremendous amount of work, but the need for such a program is perfectly clear.  iFp Saturdays started from a simple observation.  There is a tremendous amount of youth oriented innovation related activities occurring in Boston & Cambridge almost every weekend.  As I walked through the largest and smallest events, it was very noticeable that young people in our target demographic are not taking advantage of it. Were they not interested? Not aware? Not wanting to go alone? Voila, iFp Saturdays was born.  The idea is not rocket science.  Leverage existing activities already occurring, develop some of our own and add lotsa pizza.  Our first year has been outstanding.

5 College Visits

When we started the program in September, it was completely nomadic.  Since our activities were mostly destination based, there was no need for a home per say.  The yellow benches in front of the MIT Museum became our defacto home.  We would often meet there before taking the T or a van to our destination.  MIT would later become our official home.  Our students have become quite comfortable roaming the halls of MIT. Infinite corridor and Lobby 7 have become a part of their vocabulary.  They have explored the Glass Lab, D-Lab, IDM and relaxed in Killan Court. We have also studied MIT’s architecture and art.  What an amazing host!

Students also spent time at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics  (shared in previous post) as well as on UMass Lowell and Olin College campuses. At UMass Lowell, we toured their Plastics Engineering Lab.  Students learned about many cutting edge plastics manufacturing and design technologies.  College students proudly showed the different processes used to create hollow plastic products such as plastic bottles versus solids and other fascinating techniques.  It was truly amazing to see the many state of the art labs on campus.

The Olin College visit was incredible.  Olin was founded 20 years ago to provide a 21st Century engineering education.  Everything about the school is different – classrooms, dorms, library, approach to learning, everything.  Our visit not only included a tour, but our students participated in a 4-hour workshop with students from Olin, Babson and Wellesley.

The workshop was on Apps for Activists.  Using the Human-Centered Design process, students created video prototypes of apps to solve pressing issues.  Our students served as subject matter experts as well as designers. The resulting prototypes included apps to help students receive extra homework assistance, a method to pre-order lunch to alleviate long lines, a real-time way to reach out to counselors when stressed out, a strategy for parents / children to negotiate use of time and others.

The fifth visit wasn’t an actual visit, but our boys joined over 200 boys in a leadership conference sponsored by the Greater Boston Morehouse Alumni Association.  Students learned about the value of a Morehouse education through workshops and discussions.

2 Museum Visits 

iFp Saturdays is a Design + STEM program and from our viewpoint there is no skill more pertinent to innovation than observation.  Where better to learn observation skills than an museum?  The main attraction of our trip to the Peabody Essex Museum was the Moon exhibit.  However, the history of shoes exhibition was just as educational.

We not only met on the yellow benches in front of the MIT Museum, but ventured inside on a few occasions.  Our girls participated in the Museum’s Girls Day Robotics program and one of our boys learned the basics of building a Rube Goldberg contraption.  We could not get that contraption to work, but it was a good experience (see post).

7 Design Activities

The Design profession has evolved and continues to evolve.  John Maeda, former head of MIT Media Lab and President of Rhode Island School of Design, says there are three types of design every company needs to know: classical design, design thinking (human-centered design) and computational design. He explains the differences in detail here.  Although there is much talk about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) today, the reality is that STEM without Design is 20th century thinking. John Maeda’s article supports that comment.  In our programming, we emphasize the integration of Design and STEM.

We have undertaken design activities at MIT IDM, MIT D-Lab, Boston Public Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Olin College and a few of our own creation.

Lotsa Pizza

We eat a lot of pizza on Saturdays.  The innovation exposure is important, but so is the socialization.  Many of the students in our programs are the smart ones in class.  Often they are ridiculed by their classmates for asking questions and teased for being studious.  We are trying to create a culture where it’s cool to be smart.  Matter of fact if you don’t have high aspirations and don’t want to do amazing things, you are the oddball.  So, eating pizza and laughing with ambitious friends is just as important as any thing else.

Other News

We are extremely excited to have been chosen as a recipient of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s Forward Fund grant program (click here).  This is an incredible opportunity to do an amazing project that has been brewing since our first discussions with students at Fletcher Maynard Academy in the Fall of 2014. It was evident that pathways to opportunities in their own backyard weren’t obvious. Our project, WayFinders, hopes to begin paving the way:

WayFinding can be defined as spatial problem solving.  It is knowing where you are (history), knowing where your desired location is (aspirations), and knowing how to get there from your present location (pathway).  Our project connects youth with Cambridge’s rich history and its thriving innovation economy.  Most importantly, it connects the dots to pathways for them to become part of the success.

WayFinders is a digital storytelling platform and wayfinding signage system that will connect youth with Cambridge’s rich history and its booming economy.  Using the latest digital media technologies and novel distribution channels, youth will retell stories of Cambridge’s transformation from a leading New England Industrial City into home of the most Innovative Square Mile on the Planet.

WayFinders will:  

  • Connect youth, especially those in underserved communities, to Cambridge’s past, present and future.
  • Connect youth to pathways to Cambridge’s Booming Economic Success.
  • Connect businesses to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of an untapped source of future designers, scientists, technologists & entrepreneurs.

Business partners are needed to help students discover the innovation economy. More details will be forthcoming.

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Michael K. Dawson

Co-Founder, Chief Doer, Innovators For Purpose, Inc. Creative Doing - the act of changing or influencing with the intent of leaving a mark on the world...