I had never been on a trip like this before or to a conference like NSBE. I didn't know what to expect. I viewed my role on this trip as strictly the group's "Boston expert," but I became excited when Davion (picked name) told me he went last year and had really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Davion is a very bright, rebellious student, who gets offended easily. Since the beginning of the year, it had taken us a couple run-ins (and a detention) to establish a relationship of trust and mutual understanding. Even still, he was a mystery to me at this trip. I didn't feel like I really understood him or what made him tick. As all 22 students and 5 chaperones stood in the ticketing area of Detroit Wayne County Airport, I wondered what it would be like to see these students engaged in something they're extremely passionate about.
The weekend was filled with workshops, robot competitions, Ten80 races (see below), networking activities, and a career fair. More than 2,000 high school students attended and an additional 8,000 college and professional engineers flocked the Convention Center for the NSBE Career Fair. Every hallway was a bustle of suits, newly polished shoes, name tags and small leather binders full of freshly printed resumes. As for me, I made paper airplanes, designed an apartment, got free pens and made sure we didn't leave any kids behind at South Station!
Among all of the hustle and bustle was Davion, a professed future engineer who was remarkably quiet and cool during the whole conference. The moment I finally understood him was during the mini- 2 day robot competition. It was a bright 9AM workshop and I was sitting in the back of the conference hall watching the students from afar as the students were split into groups of 8-10. Each group, using a Lego Mindstorm set, was charged with creating a robot that could solve a maze. The fastest robot would win.
As the pods of students began to mobilize, I was surprised to see Davion was not the one grabbing the parts or sitting in front of the computer. He was standing in the back, watching everything with an unreadable look. But whenever he would point out something, everyone would stop to listen. In the book Quiet by Susan Cain, she quotes Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers as saying:
"Most inventors and engineers I've met are like me -- they're shy and they live in their heads. They're almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists...."
Watching Davion's eyes, you could see the gears in his brain turning as his group began coding and programming their robot. This was where he flourished. Not in the limelight, but in the creative problem-solving of his own individual thoughts. And it was the same look, that I saw in my most gifted visual arts students from last year: The same look that inspired the title of Behind the Eyes. So here's to you my artists and my engineers!
"What's so amazing
That keeps us stargazing
And what do we think we might see
Someday we'll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me"
PS I wish I could post a picture of my kids on the webs. They've inspired me so, but FERPA and all...
PPS Shoutout to LaLa on her birthday who has also done some amazing thinking about the relationship between science, creativity, the arts and how intimate they really are.