Youth Quest, Public Service Innovator of the Year Nominee
Lynda Mann, Co-Founder and President, The YouthQuest Foundation
1. What does innovation meant to you?
The YouthQuest Foundation team believes innovation is the enlightened consequence of a creative, synergistic process that leads to thinking in new ways about solving problems. For decades, American youth have been dropping out of school at a consistently alarming rate. Traditional approaches repeatedly failed to stop this loss of potential among our youth, most often leading them to a future of poverty and even prison. We wanted to create a truly innovative approach that would lead to solutions that make life better for these young people, and improve organizations and entire communities where they can grow, learn and work.
2. What makes your organization innovative?
YouthQuest provides academic and vocational development, scholarships and life-enriching experiences for at-risk youth. Our signature education project is the 3D ThinkLink Initiative. Unlike others serving high-achieving “Science Club” kids, we bring this cutting-edge technology to at-risk youth who’ve become disengaged from education. Our innovation is not that we introduce kids to 3D design and printing, it’s how we use this technology as a vehicle to teach the important life skills at-risk youth lack, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and the confidence to fail.
3D printing is perfectly suited for showing kids who’ve failed in school that mistakes are part of the learning process – they are the beginning of something good, not the end of something bad. User-friendly software and printers make it fast and easy for them to create designs, evaluate problems and make improvements until they succeed.
Using Moment of Inspiration, a professional-level CAD (computer-aided design) program, we deliver our innovative teaching methodology based on the way we learn languages. We present 3D design concepts as nouns (2D shapes) and verbs (actions applied to shapes to make them 3D).
Our success is rooted in the understanding that exposure to new ideas and experiences makes young brains grow.
3. What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
The PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families – PHILLIPS is a supportive and innovative partner in our 3D ThinkLink Initiative. 3D classes started at their Annandale campus last year and will expand to their Fairfax campus this year. They’ve tailored our curriculum, originally designed for high school dropouts in National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Programs, to teach teens on the autism spectrum. Our pilot project was so successful that the school formed a club for students from the first class to continue exploring 3D and share what they’ve learned with younger schoolmates. This kids-teaching-kids innovation helped inspire us to launch a program to make our most-motivated ChalleNGe graduates Youth Mentors in their communities.
IMADE3D – It’s been inspiring to watch this group of Virginia entrepreneurs create and perfect the JellyBox, a one-of-a-kind 3D printer kit designed for educational use. It can be built in a day and quickly disassembled, so many students can gain hands-on experience with the mechanical and electrical engineering aspects of 3D printing. Last year, our advanced ChalleNGe students became the first group to do a test-build with the JellyBox designers on hand gathering feedback, which they used to improve their product before putting it on the market.
4. What about Greater Washington has positioned us as an innovative region?
The Greater Washington region has a unique combination of attributes that makes innovation a necessity.
We have a major urban center, the seat of the federal government, and some of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs, so there are great needs as well as great resources. The region’s rapid growth and cultural diversity present both challenges and opportunities for the development of innovative solutions in areas including education, employment, transportation, housing and health care.
People from across the country and around the world are drawn here by the region’s concentration of government agencies, tech businesses, research centers, universities, associations and media. They bring with them fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. What they find is a place where their innovations can gain attention and support, and ultimately be put into practice.
5. What advice would you give to the up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Make Connections - Network, share ideas, collaborate. As noted above, you are in a region that has an unmatched combination of resources. Ask questions of everyone – especially the people you want your innovation to help – and pay close attention to their answers. Be open to new ideas without losing sight of your goal.
Please and Thank You - Take advantage of all the connections you can make here, but also remember to give back whenever you can. Innovation thrives in an environment of goodwill.
Failure Is Not Final – This is the most important lesson we teach our 3D ThinkLink students. We help them discover that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Great innovations come from trial and error, learning from failures and persevering to achieve your goal. As one of the great innovators of our time, Elon Musk, said: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
YouthQuest Foundation website: www.youthquestfoundation.org
YouthQuest Foundation Co-Founder and President Lynda Mann
3D ThinkLink students from DC, Maryland and South Carolina National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Programs
YouthQuest Director of Instruction Tom Meeks shows advanced 3D ThinkLink students a Jellybox 3D printer during Immersion Training Week in the foundation’s Chantilly, Virginia, lab.