Inspiration

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Joey Orlando, Director of Nerdy Marketing

July 16, 2014

Mali has been an absolutely incredible experience so far and unfortunately my time is winding down as I will be leaving Bamako in only 3 days :(. My time teaching the students at iNERDE’s Colonie de Vacances STEM has been one that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. The students are incredibly bright and very motivated to learn and they have given me a lot of personal inspiration. After seeing how well the camp has been going, and hearing how interested the local educators and students are to bring iNERDE to more schools next year, I know that iNERDE has also already inspired many people and implanted something indelible that will blossom and grow for years to come. On the horizon I truly believe that iNERDE’s program will expand rapidly beyond Mali, and, in time and with the effort of many visionary and determined Africans educators, reach country after country on the continent.

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We had started my first day of teaching with a lesson on renewable energy, teaching the students about how solar, wind, and hydropower can convert energy from natural sources into electrical energy that we use to power our homes. We followed up this lesson with the theory behind how cars function mechanically. As a neat supplement to the lesson we were able to find an episode of The Magic School Bus in French (Le Bus Magique) that had the characters traveling through the different components of a car and explaining how everything worked. The students loved it.

As a challenge that afternoon, we made the students put on their engineer thinking caps and build a solar-powered toy car. Later that night, we had a student, Mohamed Sogodogo, come stop by Mohamed Kante’s house here in Bamako. Sogodogo (as he goes by) was so interested in the solar cars that we had learned about earlier that day that he wanted to come by and learn more about them. I felt inspired by his intense desire to learn, having walked a long way to Mohamed’s house for the sole purpose of furthering his knowledge. We gathered together some parts from the cars that we had built that day and allowed Sogodogo to bring them home over the weekend to explore his engineering creativity. Sogodogo has told me that when he grows up he wants to not only be a computer engineer, but a journalist as well. He is going to be a busy guy!

inspiration2

Outside of the classroom we have been very busy as well. Just this past weekend we attended a meeting with a group of teachers and students from the Marcina region of Mali. They had heard about iNERDE and wanted us to come discuss our mission and share our vision with them. We were expecting a small sit down meeting with maybe three or four individuals from their group. We arrived outside a lecture hall at the Université de Bamako. There were about 75 people sitting behind a row of tables towards the front. I thought to myself, “Oh, we’re going to be attending a lecture or a group meeting”. I had never imagined that simply through word-of-mouth 75 people would show up to hear about iNERDE. It was mind blowing. The group was intrigued by our vision and expressed great eagerness to have iNERDE teach at their schools next year.

The sights of Mali have been unforgettable. Last weekend we traveled to the local market to buy food for the coming weeks. Think of downtown Manhattan and its bustling streets and that is what the market is like (except replace the skyscrapers with produce and meat stands, and the cars with motorcycles). I have never seen more people running around in such a small spot in my life! “Grocery shopping” here is a little bit different than what I have been accustomed to in the United States. Usually it takes me about an hour, at most, an hour and a half, to go grocery shopping. Here food shopping is a marathon (and I just ran one, so I’m not exaggerating). It was a hectic, but amazing experience.

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I haven’t kept up my daily routine of running, but I haven’t missed it. Aside from my marathon trip to the market, the students have been giving me plenty of running to do. During a lunch break this past week we taught the students the classic game “Duck, Duck, Goose” – a new experience among many in their iNERDE STEM summer camp. They loved it and they love to play it tirelessly!

Full of Energy

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Joey Orlando, Director of Nerdy Marketing

July 9, 2014

We have been chock-full of energy here in Bamako at the Colonie de Vacances STEM. Today marks my fourth full day in Mali and second full day with the students. So far this week at the camp we have focused on energy. We introduced the students to alternative energy methods such as hydropower, wind power, and solar power. We dived in deeper and explained how energy forms are transferred into electrical energy: solar energy from the sun being captured via a photovoltaic cell, kinetic energy in a raging river that can be captured by a turbine and turned into electrical energy, and kinetic energy in the wind and how it is also transformed into electrical energy.

As a writing/brainstorming exercise, we challenged the students to think about current energy practices in their community, and how they could transition to renewable, clean energy sources. Students also drew pictures of how they would implement wind, solar, and hydropower in their homes.

We also discussed the concepts of magnetism and electrical motors. We put this knowledge into practice, having the students use the sun to power handheld fans they built using motors, paper, and photovoltaic cells. Two other activities that had the kids buzzing with excitement: protecting an egg from a 20ft drop, and building a compass out of a piece of metal, water, and a magnet.

“Do you think it is possible to drop this egg off the balcony (from the second floor) without it breaking?” we asked the students. The students all belted out “no way!”. We challenged them to build an “egg-protecting apparatus”, using only straws, cotton, tape, plastic bags, paper cups, and string. We built on concepts of air resistance and drag the students had learned during a previous unit on parachutes.

I noticed that one of our students had been carrying around a compass for the past few days so we decided to expand our lesson on magnetism to its application in navigation and geography. We showed the students that by magnetizing a small piece of metal and suspending it in a small bowl of water, you can make a simple compass that is just as accurate as a handheld compass or even the Compass app on an iPhone.

We have an exciting day lined up tomorrow as well! We are constructing cars that run solely on solar power. Our lesson will include discussion of the various components of an actual car and how each part contributes to making the car run. Field trips, of course, are enormously popular and this week the finale will be an excursion to the local dam to see hydropower in action.

Like kids everywhere in the world, our students are constantly talking about the World Cup. Several of the kids have bestowed the ultimate honor on their science journals by putting soccer stars on the covers. A few of the kids think I resemble Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo. As long as I don’t totally disillusion them once we venture onto the soccer pitch they may start putting pictures of Joey Orlando on their science journals soon! We decided to take advantage of World Cup fever and will have a lesson on physics and soccer followed by a game where Orlando/Ronaldo will either keep or lose his undeserved reputation.

The students are really inspired by the activities and challenges that they have undertaken. A lot of times they initially think that something can’t be done, like making a compass using water and a wire, or dropping an egg 20 feet. But using simple materials, brainstorming, and some ingenuity, they are so excited when they succeed!

The camp has been full of energy, we’ve taught the students all about energy. and the students themselves are full of energy. To further top off their energy levels, we had birthday cake for Christina’s 10th birthday! Afterwards, the students were so energetic that we decided to take a quick break from geography and showed them the traditional game of “Duck Duck Goose”, which they loved!

My time in Bamako has been very busy so far, but certainly well spent. It is quite hot here (during the geography lesson we also explained to the students why the North and South Poles are colder and why it is hot here in Bamako), but in Mali, like the saying goes, “when it rains it pours”. The storms are absolutely beautiful, the thunder and lightning is intense, and the winds from the storms are a welcome refreshment from the heat. I’m doing my best to soak up every little bit of the experience – the place, the weather, the kids, the camp, in my short time here in Mali and to make as much of an impact on the kids as I possibly can.

Bamako, Je t’aime

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Joey Orlando, Director of Nerdy Marketing

July 9, 2014

Well it’s a shame that I only had 20 minutes to experience Canada, it seemed like a beautiful country (at least from my view in the airplane). An impending storm almost cancelled the first leg of my trip, luckily I made it just in time to Montreal with only fifteen minutes to sprint and catch my connecting flight to Paris. I may have broken my own personal record for the mile run, sprinting down the Montreal International terminals dodging luggage and travelers.

On the first leg of my trip to Montreal I met an interesting gentleman, a marketing professor at Emerson College in Boston and we chatted the entire flight about innovation and, of course, iNERDE. The flight to Paris was not as talkative, but I did prime myself a tad for Mali’s famous music scene by catching up on the latest francophone African and French music the majority of the time. While in Paris I had seven hours to pass so I decided for a mad dash from the airport into the city and back. Missing my flight and not getting to Mali was not an option so I did the 30-minute flash tour of Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter. More another time, Mali was expecting me!

The third and final (and most exciting) leg of my journey was to Bamako! Although this was only a 6 hour flight, it seemed to last an eternity, probably attributed to my anxiousness to finally arrive in Mali. After deboarding, going through customs, and grabbing my luggage, I was greeted by Rebecca, Mohamed, and MoMo. Finally, I was here, finally, I was in Bamako! We headed back to Mohamed’s house, where I met his brother Cheick and wife Mariam. I unwound and started unpacking for a few minutes before a late dinner was served.

Afterwards, Mohamed and I went for a walk through his neighborhood. In Bamako, everyone knows everyone here! Lest my travels had left me famished, we grabbed a second, later dinner (chargrilled rack of sheep) at a local barbeque pit which was quite busy at 1AM due to the fact that many people fast during the day in observance of Ramadan. A mere few hours of sleep and, excited as I was, I felt recharged and ready to fully experience Mali.

We went on a road trip, travelling 40km south of Bamako to visit MoMo’s chicken coup. In Mali, a road trip is not just a road trip, our short journey was filled with a spectacular range of impressions. It may be travel does whet the appetite because I can’t help saying that the food here is really excellent. The people are so kind and welcoming. And, not least, the landscape is bewitching.

I am here, however, to work! After getting back from our road trip, we ironed out the final details for the upcoming week of the camp. This week’s activities include an introduction to the design process and several design “challenges”.

Although 2014 has already been a jam-packed and exciting year for me, traveling to Mali with iNERDE, marathons/triathlons, and new jobs, I’ve already started to think about 2015, specifically my goals for the year. Two personal goals that I already plan to challenge myself with in 2015: mastering my French, and helping to turn iNERDE’s single Colonie de Vacances STEM this year into five camps in 2015. Mali is beautiful and it is a wonderful thing to plant the first iNERDE seed in this amazing place.

Joey Takes Off

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Joey Orlando, Director of Nerdy Marketing

July 3, 2014

In less than 24 hours I’ll be headed to Boston Logan International Airport to board Air Canada Flight 7689 (speaking of that, I need to check in for my flight!). No, I’m not headed to Canada, Montreal is simply the first stop, among many, on my journey to Bamako, Mali. Mali will be my home away from home for the next few weeks as I volunteer at iNERDE’s Colonie de Vacances STEM, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) summer camp.

I’ve been constantly checking the clock the past few days and counting down the hours until my departure. I really cannot describe how excited I am to be a part of iNERDE’s first ever STEM summer camp. Having previously volunteered abroad in Dominican Republic I feel as though I have a slight sense of what to expect, but at the same time there are still so many questions running through my head: What will it be like coping with French, given my limited command of that language? How will I fit in in Mali? What about the kids at the camp, what will they think of me?

When I arrive at Bamako International Airport on July 4th, America’s Independence Day, many of my questions will begin to be answered. In an attempt to productively gather my thoughts, and capture my experiences, I plan to keep a daily journal that will be condensed into blog posts and appear here on iNERDE’s website. I consider myself the rare “tweeter”, once in a blue moon will I tweet. But for this occasion, I’m coming out of twitter retirement to give my followers live updates on my experiences. Follow me on twitter to keep track of me as I help to make the dream of iNERDE a reality in our first Colonie de Vacances STEM (see, French is already pouring out of me!).

Crazy Kids

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

June 22, 2014

I have had a 30-year career in STEM and, by quite a bit, am the old man at iNERDE. Old, only, in experience, as competitive sports and yoga have kept me in shape and mentally supple. Thirty years is a lot of experience and after finally tiring of chasing that pot of gold in tech I decided it was time to start using my knowledge to give back.

Just as I had made that decision, along came Mohamed and Rakib, young African immigrants starting careers in the sciences and burning with the desire to give young people in the part of the world they had come from the kind of opportunity they had in the US. They were working on a crazy plan to stimulate STEM opportunity in Africa by triggering a virtuous cycle of supply and demand though education for kids in the critical age group of 9-12. This is the window in which kids are either turned on or turned off by STEM for the rest of their lives.

They had come up with the idea of working with local schools to create STEM summer camps, thereby not only reaching the kids but also training the teachers, propagating the effects of the camp into the school year and reaching into the school systems and a larger group of students.

Mohamed insisted on creating a social enterprise, not a “charity”, following an aggressive business plan like any start-up. The plan included a strategy for growing their “entry market” and expanding scope and scale of operations once they had achieved market dominance. The pilot summer camp would be replicated in many countries, curriculum packaged and eventually “franchised” throughout Africa with iNERDE providing mentorship and organizational support to schools running their own programs. The objective was no less than to become a key player in a revolution in education throughout Africa. In the ultimate phase iNERDE will go from the revolution in education to the revolution in opportunity. With a cadre of iNERDE “graduates”, and feet both in North America and Africa, iNERDE will be positioned to be a catalyst for African STEM entrepreneurship and to help forge mutually beneficial international partnerships.

Crazy kids with big dreams!

I have participated in a lot of start-ups and my gut told me these guys were the real deal. Mohamed has the leadership mojo, Rakib, the ability to turn ideas into detailed plans. They had already assembled a team of dedicated and amazing volunteers, more crazy kids, started a crowdfunding campaign, put up quite a decent website, launched all the social media stuff, incorporated, applied for non-profit status, honed core messages, and, above all, developed curriculum and put partnerships in place to hold the pilot STEM summer camp in Mali. Clearly, these guys are going to succeed big at something, someday … but what about today, could the iNERDE business plan work? Is Africa ready for this?

I have learned over the years that long-term success is most often more about positioning yourself to be able to take advantage of the inevitable than a specific invention or innovation. “Being at the right place at the right time” is one part of it, but there is really much more. Without the innovative mindset needed to adapt and shape emerging opportunity it is useless to be at the right place at the right time.

iNERDE is positioned in the right place, just ahead of the curve, right where a start-up wants to be. Radical development in Africa is inevitable because of irresistable pressure from without and from within. In a world as profoundly interconnected and interdependent as ours is today the economic imbalance between Africa and the other continents is … unproductive. Under the economic system that gave rise to colonalism, the powerful profited from holding human development in Africa back. In a global knowledge economy human underdevelopment in Africa is lost opportunity. Investment is flowing into Africa today and is ready to turn into a flood. As another consequence of our interconnected world, Africans have a greater ability than at any time in history to act on their aspirations. They are organizing at the grassroots level to resist and overcome those forces that would deny them the means to create a better life, and these actions are having a powerful impact.

Yes, Africa is in the early stages of radical development, but why is iNERDE focused on STEM education? Aren’t there other, basic, things more important right now like healthcare or clean water? The fact is that every problem, at its core, is a problem of education and confidence in one’s ability to solve problems. Technology, STEM, provides the tools to solve problems with understanding, cheaply and efficiently, and on a large-scale. Creating good infrastructure in Africa is not unattainable; we have seen many countries build a modern infrastructure nearly from scratch in one to two decades in the last fifty years.

In fact, African infrastructure has improved enormously over the last decade, bringing vast improvements in the “classic” African problems like water supply and healthcare. African countries are now focused on developing a broader manufacturing base or even the creation of high tech centers like Kenya’s Konza Techno City. What is needed is people with the technical knowledge and enough confidence in the future to dream and act on an ambitious scale.

STEM education is about much more than building infrastructure, it is the key to enabling truly transformative economic growth. The fact is that despite some of the highest growth rates in the world, Africa is starting with a large deficit and, combined with population growth, merely strong economic expansion is projected to leave most of Africa far behind the rest of the world in the coming 30 years. The equation is not, however, fixed, and growth does not have to be linear. We live in a remarkable time where the greater part of wealth creation comes from knowledge, not material. A scientific idea can result in an abundant source of energy that could not even be imagined a decade earlier, a computer program can efficiently organize an economic activity increasing productivity ten thousand fold. As Africans are enabled and empowered to participate in the knowledge economy through STEM education the rules of the game of economic growth will change. Radical development in a single generation, with a whole lot of will, is a real possibility.

As I write this iNERDE is turning our beliefs into a reality, it is now week 3 of our very first STEM summer camp in Mali. The joy of learning and the ability of our 9 and 10-year old kids to absorb and put to use STEM concepts is breathtaking. Crazy kids. This experience so strongly confirms for us what we knew, that the only thing that really held back African young people from transforming their world was the opportunity to learn. And that opportunity is here, right now. Our crazy kids are going to amaze the world.

STEM and Soccer, An African Perspective

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Rabikou Ouro-Djobo, Chief of Nerdy Operations

June 16, 2014

OK, aside from the physics of a ball flying toward the goal and statistics about players, what does association football, aka, in the United States, soccer, and STEM in Africa have to do with each other?

Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport in most African countries, and an enormous souce of pride and joy for many, many Africans. Each World Cup, Africa sends better and better teams to the competition and this is one symbol of the fantastic transformation happening in Africa today. The World Cup is also a showcase, followed by more than a billion people, where people around the world learn about African countries and witness the skill, exuberance, and high aspirations of African people. Africa is advancing in all areas and STEM education and the opportunity to pursue careers in STEM is an important area where we are seeing the same rising skills, exuberance and high aspirations.

So, at iNERDE, we’re both passionate about STEM and soccer fans, proud of the accomplishments of the African teams.

I am a multinational person. I was born and raised in Ghana and spent my adolescence in Togo until I recently moved to USA when I won the American lottery visa in 2005.

For two consecutive world cups, Ghana and USA have crossed paths, and for the third time this Monday they cross paths AGAIN… Each of the last two times Ghana has prevailed, with Ghana, a soccer powerhouse, reaching the quarter-finals in 2010. My love for both countries is very strong, and I always face a dilemma deciding which country to root for.

Should I support Ghana, where I was born? or should I root for the USA, a country that has given me the opportunity to become who I am, and what I want to be in years to come and whose coach Jürgen Klinsmann was my idol growing up?

Ghana is, again, a strong and confident team, no doubt about it. The USA has great potential and may go far, if not in this tournament, certainly in the years to come. To this I say, may the best team win.

My prediction? OK, under great duress, and with immense love and respect for both teams and both countries, USA over Ghana, 2-1.