In 1983, a small invention education program was established that would grow to reach over 250 schools and thousands of students. The Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) is an independent, non-profit organization that has been fostering STEM education for almost 40 years, dedicated to improving innovation, invention and entrepreneurship for youth around the country.
Promoting the spirit of invention is one of the main principles of The Connecticut Invention Convention. CIC’s long history and successful principles helped give rise to The STEMIE Coalition (STEMIE) and NICEE, which elevates K-12 invention and entrepreneurship education to a national level. CIC programs consist of a year-long, multi-level academic curriculum that is taught in the classroom, after school and additional settings in nearly 300 public and private K-12 schools.
I spoke to Nick Briere, the Executive Director at Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC). Nick has a long history with CIC and invention programs in general. He worked alongside the organization and the Invention Convention in a professional capacity for more than a decade, prior to becoming the Director of CIC. Growing up, he competed in invention competitions as a student and became a volunteer in high school and college. In 2015, he and a couple of friends launched an initiative to seek a community around an existing invention convention, the Connecticut Invention Convention.
After an attempt to take the program and nationalize it, they realized they had to take a detour. “We only got about three months into the launch before we had to take a massive pivot. We realized that invention programs did exist all over the nation, but were completely disparate. In most cases, they, like we, thought they were the only programs.” Nick changed their mission and created a community around the existing invention convention, programs that had already been deployed, and in some cases, more than a decade old.
The Connecticut Invention Convention Expansion
The Connecticut Invention Convention brought ten-week invention education programs to more than 2,000 students who come from below-median-income areas of the state and to more than 30 underserved schools across the state thanks to their generous partners. “We really focus much more on the event and the competition, which is something that can bring everyone together.” Make48 and CIC are similar in that representation and Nick notes the pathway. “CIC is not equipped right now, in commercializing inventions and having students take their products to market. But Make48 represents this kind of pathway and partnership. Our oldest students (most are 17) graduating through the CIC, represent kind of the youngest cohort of people that would participate in a M48 competition.”
Nick believes one of the greatest growth opportunities is to realize how national partnerships can empower local community partnerships. They regularly send students to Comcast newsmaker, NBC segments, they had a student on Shark Tank, and last year a CIC team competed at Make48’s Hartford challenge. “Our student team didn't move on to Nationals, but in my opinion, one of the greatest growth opportunities is to realize more partnerships like that, that empower local community partnerships to submit teams, and in doing so, get some recognition and put them on the map.”
CT Invention Convention Summer Camp
This summer in partnership with Quinnipiac University, CIC is bringing a one and two-week overnight innovation summer camp to Quinnipiac, where middle-school students will go through a variety of activities to build skills and create their own invention and all students will leave the camp with a provisional patent. “CIC is getting support from lawyers and members from the Intellectual Property Association’s Education Fund (IPOEF). “We're going to surround students with resources so that each of them are emerging with, what for us is really the apex of our program, and that's intellectual property rights.”
Students will develop creative learning skills and dive deep into the invention and entrepreneurship process, from problem definition through ideation to design and prototype. Summer camp will conclude by having all their students present their inventions. Families can enroll up until May 30th. The first session will be held from July 11-22, 2022 and the second session falls from August 1-12, 2022.
Nick is excited about the opportunity as this is the first year they are doing a formal summer camp and CIC worked hard to cut costs of the summer camp price tag. “We were a little bit daunted by the price tag and cut costs where we could, and it was still going to cost $3,300 a student for this overnight summer camp,” Nick relayed. “Unfortunately, it’s not a whole lot of relief to see that it was much lower than other summer camps because the reality is 85% of student inventors in the CIC come from below median income households.” The nonprofit has raised $45,000 so far, to give scholarships to fully scholarship students through the program. To Apply for an application visit this link: https://forms.gle/jN8CVTzUcrVgnmSY8.
For most of the students this will be their first ever summer camp experience, and for some, it could be their only summer camp experience, especially as they continue to get more costly. “We're also working with the Consolidated School District of New Britain as one of the partners to provide STEM programming through their create program. Both of these programs are designed to be extremely inclusive and accessible programs to help bring STEM and innovation experiences to students that might not otherwise receive them.”
“You don't need to send students to state finals just to help a student invent,” Nick concluded. “We keep these things extremely accessible, and we would love to welcome any partner and any student that's interested in this program.”
For those looking for opportunities to engage young people in innovation, CIC is a great place to start. This year, they had nearly 700 volunteers through the program. “One of the critical reasons that we push community volunteerism so much is diversity of thought. When an inventor has their invention, the relative success of that invention depends very much on the background of the person considering the invention. If you're a marketer and you're looking at a student's invention, you're probably looking for very different indicators of success than if you're an engineer or if you work in customer service, etc. These are all different backgrounds.”
The CIC formerly trains and review their judges for competitions. Nick noted how important this is for them. “If you want to engage a broad and diverse group of judges, you need to make the experience accessible. You need to offer training and you need to make judges comfortable no matter what the background is. With our tools, they will be as qualified as the next judge or the next mentor to participate in the program.”
By having multiple judges reviewing a student pool, you dramatically increase the diversity of thought and improve the integrity of judging, while also getting a lot more valuable feedback. One point that Nick brought up was virtual accessibility. “Historically speaking, if you wanted to volunteer at an invention convention competition, you had to be willing and able to walk the halls and stand up for several hours.” The elderly population, and individuals with physical impairments, who might not have volunteered, can do so without any stipulations and it’s done wonders for CIC participation.
CIC welcomes mentors and judges from a range of backgrounds and industries. One of the biggest challenges they have is recruiting judges and mentors and convincing individuals that they do not have to be an engineer to be able to provide meaningful feedback and mentorship to students. “They don't have to be anything in particular, because every single person that you walk past on the street has an incredibly valued perspective to offer. And at scale, if you have a large group of people, you're going to be able to benefit from all the different perspectives.”
The year-long program that teaches students creative problem solving through the process of invention can be taught in a variety of settings including in schools, after-school programs, home schooling environments, makerspaces, and invention clubs. Ask your child or student what they would want to change in the world (identify a unique problem), build a solution to that problem, and see what occurs. “From an educational perspective, it is an extremely moving experience for a student to realize. I actually do have the power to change the world. It stops becoming just an aphorism, a saying that you put up on a poster with a picture of an astronaut that is ostensibly inspiring for kids, and it starts being something that students realize themselves without anyone having to tell them. And so that would be if there's one kind of pitch that I make to anyone that reads this, it would be, empower the young people around you to look at the world around them and think about the things they want to change.”
Thank you to Nick Briere and The Connecticut Invention Competition for their continued support of Make48 and STEM/STEAM programs. For more information and the impact they make visit CTInventionConvention.org