Inspirefest 2016 was a creative, innovative and diverse conference full of wonderful role models to inspire future generations in STEAM
I have just returned from an amazing event. If you have been anywhere near me in the last few days you will know how much this event has inspired me, moved me and changed me, because I have not stopped talking about it! The event was Inspirefest, and it certainly lived up to its name!
Through a series of wonderful and diverse speakers, the audience were entertained and amazed. We laughed, we gasped and we even shed some tears.
The event covered a wide number of topics over two days, from tech to fashion, to diversity, to finance, to communication and so much more in between. There is so much to talk about, to share, but I have decided to focus on one particular element – a subject close to my heart – inspiring STEAM in children of all ages.
We got an introduction to this from the onset, when Noel Murphy from Intel brought his two daughters on the stage to give us a musical demonstration using wearable tech. It is mind blowing to think that computing has shrunk so much that a tiny chip can be placed in clothing and jewellery, allowing us to perform tasks with the simple movement of our bodies. Aishling and Orla gave us all a bit of a laugh as they played music by simply moving their limbs.
Aishling and Orla helping dad, Noel Murphy, demonstrate some applications of wearable tech.
Alex Bernadotte shocked us with the revelation that we can predict, with a fair amount of accuracy, the life trajectory of an 18 month old child, based solely on their ZIP code. That is a very sobering thought. Only 9% of students from the lower income families will achieve a bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties. We need to redress the balance. We need to make STEAM available to children regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion or social background. We need to provide support, inspiration and the right role models. That is why Alex set up Beyond 12.
Alex shared her own personal story of a life that began in Haiti and attaining her goal of a place in an Ivy league College. The reality, however, was that it got a lot harder from there, with no family experience of such a lifestyle; without personal role models and practical support, she really struggled to stay on track, physically, academically and emotionally. Beyond 12 was set up to bridge the gap between the education systems, to redress the balance of college attendance among lower income students and to provide real-life role models and support systems for those who do achieve these goals.
Throughout the conference, there were many examples of positive role model, perhaps none more so than Mary Carty, co-founder of Outbox Incubator. Mary really impressed us with her passion and drive. She noticed that, too often, STEAM was considered a ‘boys only’ club. She saw the amazing potential in so many young girls, so many of our daughters, our nieces, our friends. Together with Anne-Marie Imafidon, Mary stopped talking and started doing. She set up Outbox Incubator and last year, 115 girls from six countries came together to learn, share, inspire, create and find like-minded people, just like them. Girls like 13-year-old Niamh Scanlon .
EU DIGITAL GIRL OF THE YEAR (2015)
Niamh Scanlon took to the stage herself, and, with calm and confidence, shared what the outbox experience really meant to her. She told us about the apps she has developed… two so far… one to allow e-car owners locate the nearest available charge point and one for journalists, to allow them interview and connect with people in different time zones (with a video option included, what an amazing idea?). Listening to Niamh talk, I don’t think there is any doubt that all her innovative concepts will come to fruition through her own creation, determination, and optimism. It is clear, however, than Outbox Incubator has provided her with all the right tools for these, and future endeavours, as well as a strong and supportive network.
There are many more girls like Niamh – such as Edel Browne, Vanessa Greene and Elle Loughran, all of whom formed a discussion panel on the future generation of innovators. Our future is in good hands!
"The Next Generation" Panel (L to R): Edel Browne, Elle Loughran, Vanessa Greene, Mary Carty, Naimh Scanlon and Anne O' Dea
This one really made me sit upright in my chair. Dónal Holland of Soft Robotics Toolkit explained the latest developments in soft robotics and their medical applications. I liked it from the onset because Dónal showed us some soft robotics bases on balloons and simple plastic meshing (my kind of science!). What I really like about Soft Robotics is their outreach initiative… they have developed the Soft Robotics Toolkit, a free on-line resource allowing anyone develop their own soft robotic device.
But they didn’t stop there; they looked for feedback and when they realised that children were using this technology – they went back to the drawing board, adapting and innovating so that their information could be used with simple, available materials. They changed the tools in their toolbox. Now children all over the world are making robots with cardboard and glue; at this stage, I was practically bouncing on my seat.
This is amazing, this is inspiring… and this is what we will be doing this Summer!
“Innovation is a blend of creativity that exists in those that can see beyond what is currently available” Zoe Philpott, Inspirefest 2016.
POSITIVE ROLE MODELS
Brenda Romero from Romero Games gave a very entertaining talk. For the most part, Brenda drew laughter, but at one point she brought tears to our eyes. She told us how her daughter, as a seven-year-old, was told by a group of boys that she couldn’t play games… she was a girl! She had the perfect quip – not only could she play games very well, but her mother designed them! (What a perfect example of a positive role model for young girls.)
But this wasn’t what brought the tear to our eyes… Brenda showed us a card her daughter had made for her around that time, saying how she wanted to make a game with her mum one day. Then Brenda announced that her daughter, now 12, is going to be making that game this Summer with her mum, as a little project together. (I’ll pause while you go get a tissue!)
Brenda’s story made me think a lot about how my own children perceive the world; I’m a mother of two boys and one girl. I want STEAM to be available to all my children, and all children out there, regardless of age, sex, race, culture, demographic or religion. Do my kids think they can or can’t do things, just because of their sex?
I asked them!
Firstly, I shared the story of what the boys said to Brenda’s daughter when she was seven. Their jaws dropped (and I felt very proud of the fact that this shocked them all!).
Secondly, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up….
My daughter: an author and illustrator
My older son: a graphic designer and engineer who designs superhero characters
My younger son: same as his big brother… and a scientist
They certainly didn’t seem to see any barriers in the way of their aspirations and dreams. The only thing I realised after asking the question, was that my question was wrong; I was asking them what they want TO BE… but each of my children told me what they were ALREADY. My daughter has enough books written and illustrated to fill a library; my engineering son has folders full of superhero designs and my little scientist? Well, anyone who follows me on Facebook will know that he is always doing experiments, raiding my supplies and overshadowing me in our videos.
I will leave you with one last example of a positive role model, one that encourage kids to embrace individuality, enjoy their childhood and embark on meaningful adventures. It comes in the form of a doll. This doll is 18 cm high, she looks like a child… because she is for children! She can stand on her own two feet, because we all want our children to be able to do that. She can be anything she wants to be… an archaeologist, a ballerina, a kite-flyer, a superhero.
Her name is Lottie… and, inspired by a six year old girl called Abigail, she is the first doll in space. I’ll leave you with this video by Elena Rossini, telling Lottie’s story (you way want to reach for those tissues again).
For me, this sums up so much of what Inspirefest was all about – inspiration from the cradle up!
Disclosure: I received tickets to attend Inspirefest 2016; all opinions expressed are my own.