Invent The Change with Jay Flores
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2022 and has been updated with new information
A couple of months ago we posted that our emcee, Jay Flores would be participating on American Ninja Warrior. Guess what? Jay made it through to the next round!
Tune in to NBC on Monday, July 18th at 8pm/7pm (central) to watch Jay compete on the semi-finals episode in Los Angeles.
May 26, 2022
We first met Jay Flores in Madison, WI last year. It was Jay’s first emcee event with us, but not his last. Since that challenge, Jay has been traveling around the country with Make48, FIRST Robotics, fielding speaking engagements and competed on the NBC show American Ninja Warrior. Jay, a global STEM Ambassador and the founder of Invent The Change, recently emceed the Make48 national competition. I spoke to Jay about the challenge theme, a topic he holds close to his heart, and his own recent challenge at American Ninja Warrior.
The challenge for the national event was STEAM Toys. What do you think of the category and how you think the teams took to it?
I think this is one of the coolest categories you can have, at least in the area that I'm passionate about. I'm always trying to find ways to create experiences that are as educational as they are entertaining. It's an experience that young people don’t often have. When I look back on my education, it was the hands-on learning, labs and experiments that were the most exciting. Even when a teacher would demonstrate the cool concept, that helped me understand it so much more.
I think this is a fun way to think of this space that might not have had a lot of innovation in it or a lot of attention and also what that impact is going to be after that. So this is a product that's not only going to then go to market and be a new thing, but then that product is going to inspire other kids to explore and bring their ideas to life and continue that creative process.
Overall, it was a lot of fun and it's going to be highly impactful. And I think that's what we're really looking for at a lot of Make48 events.
How long have you been working with the STEM/STEAM mission?
Since college. When I was 19, I began doing outreach, looking for creative and unique ways to bring STEM to an audience. In 2015, I became the Global STEM ambassador at Rockwell Automation and did that for five years.
You emceed Make48 Nationals and have emceed a few of our events so far. What's been the best memory and have you been inspired by anything?
Yes, 100% I’ve been inspired. I've always thought everyone has good ideas, yet not everyone has the resources or skill set. A lot of what I try to do is prepare children mathematically and scientifically to be able to do it, but sometimes that's very challenging. However when you can take a group and surround them with all the resources they need to take that idea and bring it to life, it shows you that anyone can really innovate. You just really need the right pieces in place to support people in those spaces.
So even in underrepresented communities, there's no reason why they can't be excellent in these spaces too. It's just they haven't historically been supported in the way that we support people at the Make48 events. Each M48 event is living proof that if we put the right tools and resources around creative people, really cool things can happen.
I think my favorite moment from the M48 events was working on the kids' choice award in Madison with the student judges and helping build the trophy out of toys and existing games around the workshop with the Tool Techs. The students were really excited about the team that won the kids choice award (The Stainless Steel Badgers), and I hope that they will be able to receive those toys or games for Christmas or for their birthday.
A lot has happened this year, including a performance on American Ninja Warrior. Can you tell me a little about your experience there?
I love obstacle course racing and American Ninja Warrior has always been a really cool show for me. But I have a unique angle to it because of my STEM background. One, I can appreciate the obstacle design a lot. It's something that I nerd out on. They build incredible, large, unique obstacles every season, and they always have to innovate and come up with new ones.
There are certain things, like the warped wall, that are always part of the course. But other than that, the rest of the obstacles are always changing and they find innovative and new ways to challenge ninjas.
There's so much science and physics that goes into completing the course. How do you conquer this obstacle? How is it designed? What happens when I grab here versus there? You also can't touch the course before you actually compete on the show. You have to be able to analyze it and understand distances and how things work. I think it puts me in a good position to succeed as well.
And PTC OnShape created something special for you before your performance?
Yes, they created their own model of the American Ninja Warrior warped wall and buzzer as a good luck post for me!
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We were looking at doing obstacle design because Ninja Warrior always has an obstacle design competition, and people from all different ages and all over the world can submit obstacle ideas. You'll get anything from a young kid drawing an idea with crayon, to complex CAD designs. So we want to inspire more people to create things in OnShape in unique ways, like Ninja Warrior.
Creating an obstacle design using OnShape also helps me visualize things better. When I see it in the model, I can move it around, and it helps prepare me.
What did you find most challenging while competing? The obstacles?
The obstacles can be challenging, but it's more so a mental game. The size and scale of everything is large on the show, which makes certain things a little more intimidating. There's also the lights, crowd noise, waiting your turn with 100 other competitors, and you also know that millions of people will watch you either succeed or fail. Also the added pressure that you only get one shot.
All the obstacles were over water, so that made things a little more interesting. It's not something that you're used to, and it makes it more intimidating. I also had a lot of family and friends there too, so that's support AND pressure at the same time. You want to do well in front of your family, but they're also there to support you no matter what.
I personally have a message that I want to share via the show, so that is very important to me. I wanted to make sure that it gets the attention it deserves. And if I don't do well, that could potentially risk the chances of the message getting shared.
You can catch Jay Flores compete on American Ninja Warrior Monday, June 6th on NBC. Follow Jay on Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. And don’t forget to watch Jay this fall when he emcees Make48’s national docuseries on PBS.
About Jay Flores: Jay is one of the most influential voices in STEM reaching millions of students every month as a member of Discovery Education’s Mystery Science Team. In his role as a Mystery Science Guide Jay nurtures curiosity by answering questions submitted by students like “How were LEGO bricks invented?” and “Why don’t people fall out of roller coasters when they go upside down?”
As a Global STEM Ambassador, Jay knows just how important STEM is to the future of the world. He’s spreading the word through his energizing presentations and outreach to schools, community groups and industry experts. As a keynote speaker, he is masterful in connecting STEM to everyday life and motivating students to become tomorrow’s innovators.
Jay holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has been recognized by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), who elected Jay when he was 19 years old as the youngest voting national board member in SHPE history. He served 5 years on the SHPE national board and has contributed to a wide variety of state, national and global STEM advisory boards. Jay lives in the Miami area, but travels frequently for speaking engagements and to compete at an international level in Obstacle Course Racing. Learn more about Jay’s devotion to STEM by watching “WHY Everyone is Born an Engineer: Jay Flores at TEDx UW Madison” on YouTube.