A Summer Party

The time had come to step out and lay claim publicly to this new vision. So we formed a team and set about to organize a gathering that would bring industry leaders and educators together. This event would be the launch of Innovate Oregon, a movement to transform education in Oregon.

We knew we needed a bold vision. Incremental improvements would never allow us to catch up with school systems in other states where we were so behind. We needed to Leapfrog.

So, on a beautiful day in August, under a tent in the rolling hills of Stoller Vineyard, a hundred people met. Half of them were industry leaders, the rest educators.

We began by introducing twenty middle and high school students from Umatilla, Oregon, a small community in eastern Oregon, where many families lived in poverty.

While the adults were meeting together, the students were going to be in a tent next to the main one, working on a challenge. Their job was to deliver, by the end of the day, presentations of their solutions. Before that day, none of them had any idea what that challenge was.

We presented them with a practical scenario: given that their community currently had no recycling program, how could they prototype one using a $10,000 seed grant? They had six hours to organize into teams, research, ideate and develop pitches for a pilot project.

In the main tent, we had a keynote presentation to frame our aspiration. Then the real listening happened as business leaders and educators talked to each other at their tables.

These were powerful conversations. For many of the educators, this was the first time that they had ever had an opportunity to sit down with CEOs and discuss their hopes and aspirations for their companies. What became immediately clear was that these CEOs were all facing difficult times and desperately needed employees who were creative problem solvers.

The challenges facing these CEOs were intense, as market dynamics required fast iteration of new solutions using technologies that may not have been imagined just a few years before. And tomorrow’s challenges had to be met with technologies that hadn’t yet been invented.

The discussions were eye-opening – particularly for Jami. She came to deeply understand that the current teaching institutions that rewarded compliant learners created compliant workers – failing both the needs of students and their future employers.

In this new economy, an entirely new student needed to be nurtured, one who was empowered to solve complex problems. She heard it straight from the CEOs.

The day ended with the student teams presenting their prototypes, one by one. Their ideas were creative and powerful, impressing everyone, particularly the CEOs.

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