It all started when…

The Conrad Foundation honors the legacy of Apollo 12 astronaut, Charles “Pete” Conrad, and his four-decade passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. Pete spent 20 years as a U.S. Navy Test Pilot and NASA Astronaut. In November 1969, he became the third man to walk on the Moon. After many years as an aerospace explorer, Pete’s entrepreneurial spirit took flight. He founded four companies devoted to the commercialization of space travel. Unfortunately, Pete’s pursuits were cut short with his passing in 1999.

Nancy Conrad, Pete’s wife, shared his passion for inspiring future explorers, often working hand-in-hand with him prior to his death to launch his numerous commercial space businesses. In his passing, Nancy knew she wanted to keep Pete’s spirit for innovation and entrepreneurship alive, but targeted to the next generation of explorers. 15 years ago, this former high school teacher launched the Conrad Foundation and its flagship program, the Conrad Challenge, encouraging students to Get Your Genius On™. Since then, she has become a recognized leader in transformative education, testifying before the U.S. Congress and speaking at global conferences. She is dedicated to energizing and engaging students in STEM fields through unique entrepreneurial opportunities.

Daniel: The words we choose are important and the way we frame opportunities is equally important. Today, I'm going to be joined by Nancy Conrad for the second time on this show. I love what she's doing with the Conrad Challenge, but I so appreciate how she frames, what the Conrad Challenge is about. You're going to hear her talk about how it's an invitation to design the future. Think about that an invitation to design the future. Just those handful of words have so much inspiration and potential locked inside. It's just waiting for young people to dig in and unleashed the creativity they have inside them. They solve interesting problems. You'll hear more about the challenge within this discussion. So that's what we're going to talk about today. So happy to have Nancy back. I do want to say that the Conrad Challenge registration's coming to a close quick. So it's really important for you to let your community know and let your students know to register and they can get all the information they need@conradchallenge.org. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast. The show for Ruckus Makers, those innovative school leaders making change happen in education. We'll have our conversation with Nancy just after this message from our sponsors.

Daniel: All students have an opportunity to succeed with organized binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more@organizedbinder.com. Today's podcast is brought to you by Teach Fx. It's basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/BLBS. If you're waiting for your district to develop you don't hold your breath. What would you be able to accomplish? If you poured jet fuel on your leadership development. Rob, a principal in North Carolina had this to say about his Mastermind experience. I have found myself trying more things because I know that I have the support from other amazing school leaders to help guide me through. If I get stuck, turn your dreams into reality and level up your leadership, apply to the Mastermind today at better leaders, better schools.com/mastermind

Daniel: Hello, Ruckus Maker. I am excited to have Nancy Conrad back on the show. I first spoke to Nancy back in October of 2018 and it's October of 2020. We're doing another bonus episode to talk about her amazing work with the Conrad Challenge and the Conrad Foundation. Nancy, welcome to the show.

Nancy: Thank you so much. Good to be with you

Daniel: Shared there in the very brief introduction. It's been a handful of years since we spoke last. I'd love for you to tell the Ruckus Maker listening. What the Conrad challenge all about in case they don't know.

Nancy: It's really about purpose driven innovation. What our competition does is it invites teams of high school students 13 to 18, and they come from all over the world and we invite them to design the future. They do that by combining innovation, education and entrepreneurship, creating commercially viable products to solve global and local challenges. Boy, do we need these kids today? We work in categories, aerospace, energy, cybersecurity health, a smoke-free world. This year we're adding one category that is oceans and particularly the plastic problem in oceans. So these kids are creating real solutions. They are commercially viable and some of them get patents and some of them deploy their products. The students own their IP. We do not own it. And some of them have been awarded patent awards and they work with top tier IP lawyers.

Nancy: The IP is a gift to them. In other words, they're not charged for filing a patent, which can get quite expensive. The kids come from all over the world and they form teams. There's two to five on a team, and they need a coach. The coach could be a parent, a teacher, an afterschool program, a university student, anyone that's an adult qualifies to be a coach and it's a funnel competition and it begins the end of August. We're just about to hit our first deadline and that's when the students begin to submit their product ideas. It's all over the place because we don't say make this. If you make a better you win. We say, Hey, here's a bunch of things that need solutions and you guys are really amazing thinkers. So find a solution. I just want to share with you one piece that I find so interesting. We've been taught fundamentally that there are two ways of thinking about things inside the box and outside the box, but we don't have a box.

Nancy: We actually created the no box toolbox, which is organic framework that helps teachers and students to understand the process of innovation and entrepreneurship and that's on our website and all the kids have access to it. It's really, the kids are on it from all over world. It's very interactive and we have one of our head of education and professional development is the guide on that's part of our efforts and pretty interesting to see what these kids can come up with. That's the competition. It's annual, it's a funnel competition. It has become one of the top credentials for universities admission. That's happened since we last talked and it's one of the top competitions in entrepreneurship. We don't give money. It isn't about dropping out of school and making a company. The real thing that happens as a consequence of this competition is that young people learn how to think, and they learn how to learn.

Nancy: And that's the biggest takeaway of this particular exercise because it's playing their creativity, I call it pull education. What happens in the classroom is you have the traditional Sage on the stage and the complacent student sucking up information. Well, these kids are really smart and they have tremendous capacity to create. What we've touched is that creative proponent of these young people. So I call it pull education. We pull out of them, their passion, their interests, their desired to be part of something very active and proactive. And designing the future is a really cool thing to be able to do at this stage of their lives. The takeaway for them is really this capacity to learn how to think and learning how to learn because they've applied what they've learned in the classroom.

Nancy: It's an extraordinary mission that we do. The students, when they present at our finals, as I said, it's funneled. So we down select to five teams per category, and they present to judges in real time. It's kind of an Academy awards for the students. The judges are from government industry and academia, and the prices that these kids win. As I mentioned, it's a top credential for university admission, but they win opportunities. We used to give them money and we found that it was not enough to do what they needed to do and too much to do nothing. The money didn't really mean very much. I don't want them dropping out of high school and going to create companies and all that kind of stuff. As I mentioned, that the real takeaway is the process of working in these teams.

Nancy: They were in leadership and collaboration and cooperation and community. And so that's one of the big takeaways, the opportunity to learn how to think is another big takeaway. And then they get opportunities. So for example, we've had our winning team speak on the floor of the UN and they actually get standing ovations. It's pretty amazing to see this. They get to speak at top tier education conferences. They they've done local stories for their countries. One of our students some years ago, out of South Korea was honored by the government, the president of South Korea. They had parades and all sorts of things, young person, and he's gone on to do extraordinary things. So the opportunities that comes as consequences of this are so exciting and so dynamic for these young people and they kind of become rock stars. I call it geeky chic. So yeah, it's really, that's the coolest part I think.

Nancy: Some of them have gone on to actually create companies later during their careers. We're old enough now we're in our 15th year. So we have quite a large alumni group. We have an alumni leadership council that works with the students. One of our alumni is on our board of directors and it's become, it's a family. This is not about, 250,000 kids in a Coliseum somewhere. This is intimate and it's family. It's very integrated in these kids stay with us year over year, over year and some for over 15 years at this point. I can't explain to you the, how do you explain emotion? You can't, but when people ask me how many kids I have, I say thousands, we really actually, haven't worried about these students. I write references for many of them for universities, they stay in touch with us. As I said, they become part of our alumni group and our alumni leadership council. So that's, what's happened no big deal just two years, right?

Daniel: Yeah. That'd be good. It is hard to capture the emotion. I think you did a wonderful job doing that and this goes out as an audio podcast, but I have a huge smile on my face, especially picturing the kids on the floor of the UN. Wow. Or like you said, the young person, shaking hands with the president of South Korea. I mean, those are moments that they'll remember their whole life and who knows how that changes the direction of their lives.

Nancy: I mean, they've spoken to ISTI, they're spoken at BTT. They speak at large conferences, and they're so comfortable in their own shoes. These kids have grown their own authenticity, and I've seen lone wolfs come to summit and they walk out authentic humans. I mean, they walk out with a whole community of young innovators and they walk out with friends and in today's world, given what we've got going on, I call it the AC period, the after Corona period. But these kids are a global community, uh, share with you something that occurs to me. That's so unique about what we've done. We've been an online education resource for 15 years. So pivoting to online for us was not a pivot. It was just expanding our own platform. These young people, the digital natives, if you will, the gen Z's have grown up on the internet.

Nancy: My belief is that they see the world very much like the astronauts did when, when the astronauts went back to earth and saw this fragile blue planet. This blue marble suspended in a black velvet sky, there were no borders. There were no boundaries and it's fragile. These young people that work with us from around the world and really it has been from Australia to Zimbabwe and everything in between. They see the world that same way. They connect with each other across countries, cities, states, socioeconomic levels, genders. They are a community of young humans that are very much tuned into the fragility of the planet. They've formed teams from different countries, different cities, States it's really quite extraordinary to watch. They are a global community and gen Z that will be inheriting the planet has the opportunity to do some really great work. I've said that we know we need to leave a better world for our children, but we also need to leave better children for our world. And this is a way where these kids become integrated and become that global community that will work together. And who knows, this is where education can become diplomacy, peace could break out. You never know.

Nancy: I have to hurry because we're coming up on deadline. Really just register in because you can bake the cake after you've cut your recipe. So the kids can sign up now and then begin to form the pieces that they need to do going forward, because it is a funnel competition. So it's incremental development.

Daniel: Definitely registered soon. The deadline is approaching Nancy. I wonder if you could riff a little more on the no box thinking and that approach. that's important to me to discuss with you because of your handle on that concept. The person who listens that I lovingly call a Ruckus Maker, they want to make change in education. I think education traditionally has a lot of boxes, but we need to break that box open and reveal. "Oh, there was never was a box to begin with. So can you riff a bit on that?

Nancy: I am very heavily engaged right now in the whole process of that' what I've been doing for my whole life really is changing the way students learn. The no box toolbox is a vehicle it's part of a whole system. It's an ecosystem of learning that I'm working on with top leaders around the world, ministers of education, and this will be coming in you and I will talk again, because I'll be able to share this, this transformation with you. The no box toolbox is, think of it as a design thinking platform. It's a map, but it doesn't tell you where to go. So it's the phases of design thinking how do you decide what category you want to work in? How do you decide what that product might be and what are the tools to work through that process, and then come away with the one idea that you think is worth developing.

Nancy: When you go through that process, you're doing it with your team and with your coach. Many times we'll come up with the aha moment. And, Oh my gosh, that's the best idea I ever had. Well, this is working with teams. And is that the best idea? And what's your research and how can you prove out that that's the idea that you should be developing? So we help through that process without saying, to do it this way, and this is the product you should develop. If you do it better, you win, right. And then you'd go through sketching it out. This is within the team. You'd begin to develop your prototyping, you test things. And then you go through real time interviewing with people in the world world to think about it. You have to do a lot of research to find out if that product is actually an original idea, because you have to have something that's one commercially viable, and two can have its own IP.

Nancy: We take you through the whole intellectual property process so that they really understand what is a patent? How do you get a patent? How do you assure that your product is protected? We work very closely with USPTO not only in the US but with, uh, global patents as well. So those are some of the pieces of it. And within that happens, all of these, the SELs as we call them, because the kids have to learn, they don't have to, they are invited to it. It's kind of both because working within teams wait to be in a team without leadership skills and knowing how to communicate and collaborate and cooperate. And all of that is baked into this. I just want to share with you that my mentor, when I developed this 15 years ago, and there's some pieces under the development of this, but his name was Dr. Charles Best. Jack was the president of MIT, and he became the president of the national academies of engineering. I've been on the president's circle of the national academies for about 20 years. So I went to check because of course I admired him so much. He was working on the Grand Challenges, which is for university students. I want to do high school. I was a high school teacher and my late husband, Pete got his moonshot in high school. What can young people, what are the categories that high-school students could best work in? And check was also working on the NGSS standards. He was at the helm of the whole NGSS development. So I sort of incorporated Chuck's guidance of categories. And then the whole design thinking component, it's part of the NGSS standards. So that's all part of what we do and have been doing for 15 years.

Nancy: It's a very integrated thought out platform. Those things all came together, sort of in a cosmic sort of a way, I suppose. It's just been an extraordinary adventure as we've developed these things over the years, we've seen our students achieve unbelievable. They go to Stanford business school and get MBAs and Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and MIT and other universities. These kids are excelling, they're working and because we've given them this opportunity to be part of the future, they work at companies and they're in high because they know how to think. So it's a very different mind that comes out of something like this. It's a very creative soul and a creative spirit that is part of an innovative workforce and has purpose driven innovation at the core of their thinking skills.

Daniel: Yeah. You're building better humans. What an opportunity. Again, you can send your students to Conradchallenge.org to quickly fill out their registration form and get involved. This is the type of education we talk about in terms of the authenticity and solving interesting problems. Again, the agency and ownership over the change that students are making. I think the last question I have for you, Nancy, is maybe paint a picture of some of the projects that have come across your desk that you've seen as a part of this challenge, just to give a picture to the Ruckus Maker, listening so that they can get excited about the work and really encourage their students to participate.

Nancy: Over the years there have been so many but I will begin with NASA. NASA asked our kids to create a nutrition product suitable that could withstand micro gravity and long duration space flight and our kids came up with a meal replacement energy bar that met all of NASA's standards. It got to fly on STS 134- commanded by Mark Kelly. Mark Is the twin brother of Scott.Those kids got to go tot he launch. Can you imagine that? Our students created a device to diagnose eye disease approved by the FDA. She got early admission into Harvard. A skin care line our of developed from tabacco. Rehabilitation medical device to improve joint health. A low cost water system that serves populations in natural disasters and it's in about nine countries right now. And one of the teams developed a tool to improve energy store to improve storage efficiency inside of the international space station. I mean, it goes all over the place, a team of kids out of Legos, Nigeria, that developed systems for banking and improving the monitoring of crops for farmers in Nigeria. That was the young man that got to speak on the floor of the UN. Quite a story with him. Anyway. I mean, it just it's all over the place because we don't have a box and they come up with whatever they can come up with and they, "Oh, then we had last year, maybe two years ago, I think it was the team out of New Hampshire that developed a way to put out forest fires with sound.

Nancy: So that's what happens when you free up these young minds. It's really exciting, isn't it?

Daniel: That is exciting. Again, a huge smile on my face. I love it just because, like you said, no box thinking and they're solving interesting problems. I mean, fighting forest fires with sound, whoever would have thought of that. But that's what happens when you get out of the way you give them the tools, a framework, but not the map of how to solve it. And that's how you innovate. So, wow.

Nancy: Yeah, exactly. When I talk about purpose driven and you say, well, putting out forest fires with sound, that is purpose driven, that is things that do real stuff that make an impact and make a difference and that will create a better future for all of us. No, absolutely.

Daniel: Well, Nancy, thank you so much for being my guest again on the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Nancy: Open the atmosphere for these young people to give them the opportunity to create, man, I forgot to tell you one really cool thing we did. Okay. Let's let's do that. Let's hear it. So as you may know, my late husband was the third man to walk on the moon, flew Apollo 12. We had the 50th anniversary of Apollo. Last year, we sent up a memory disk into space aboard the Blue Origin flight and all the kids, the teachers, all of our alumni on that memory disk, we took it to the museum of flight in Seattle and it's part of an exhibit. We're going to do it again this year. How about. If you want to be part of the future and take a ride in space where your vehicle we'll drive.

: That's pretty cool. All right. Well, thanks again. Like I said, Nancy, and for the Ruckus Maker, listening check out the Conrad Challenge at Conradchallenge.org

Daniel: Thanks so much, Dan. Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Going into our 15th year, the Conrad Foundation continues to be the only organization of its kind whose programs combine science and technology-based education, innovation and entrepreneurship to inspire solutions for achieving global sustainability.

Show Highlights

  • Give your students an invitation to design the future
  • The “No box”  toolbox organic framework of innovation and entrepreneurship 
  • The Conrad Challenge will change the direction of lives
  • How education can become diplomacy promoting peace 
  • “Pull Education” changes the way students learn
  • Create authentic humans with opportunities for Geeky to Chic stardom
  • Opportunity to create commercially viable products that solve global & local challenges for students 
Nancy Conrad: An invitation to design the future

“My belief is that they see the world very much like the astronauts did when, when the astronauts went back to earth and saw this fragile blue planet. This blue marble suspended in a black velvet sky, there were no borders. There were no boundaries and it’s fragile. These young people that work with us from around the world. It has been from Australia to Zimbabwe and everything in between. They see the world that same way. They connect with each other across countries, cities, states, socioeconomic levels, genders. They are a community of young humans that are very much tuned into the fragility of the planet.”

Nancy Conrad



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