New University of Illinois Program to Recognize High School Student Innovators

New University of Illinois Program to Recognize High School Student Innovators

inovators 1Educators know that test scores and grade point averages don’t always tell the whole story. To recognize and celebrate those students whose contributions are innovative, creative, or inspirational, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has launched a new awards program, “Celebrating High School Innovators.”

“The motivation, creativity and tenacity to innovate are essential for our society,” explained Ray Price, co-director of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education at Illinois.  Price and his team partnered with Paul Ritter, a biology, ecology, and earth science teacher at Pontiac Township High School, to develop a special event to honor high school students across Illinois who have been able to meet current and emerging social needs through innovation in one of five areas: Arts, Media, & Literature; Business Entrepreneurship; Food, Health & Nutrition; Social Entrepreneurship; and Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).

The new program, which has the endorsement of several Illinois teachers associations, the regional superintendents of schools, and the Governor’s office, reflects the organizers’ belief that test scores and grade point averages do not tell us every important thing about our students. 

“This competition requires no GPA and no test scores—just contributions and results,” Price added. “This is done intentionally in the spirit of Albert Einstein, who was described by his biographer as a mediocre student for his ‘casual willingness to question authority, his sassy attitude in the face of regimentation, and his lack of reverence for received wisdom.’ We expect many of the most innovative high school students to exhibit similar attitudes and behaviors and to have made amazing contributions.”

The 100 competition finalists will have their achievements recognized in a first-of-its-kind Illinois Innovation Celebration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in spring 2015. The event, designed by students and for students, will include an opportunity for students to get to know each other and work together, to collaborate with highly innovative professionals in each area, and to engage with University of Illinois students, professors, and administrators.

Application for this event is open to all high school students (grades 9-12) who have implemented innovative ideas is their communities. Interested students are required to complete the one-page form on the program website and write a 1000-word personal statement describing who they are, what they have done in one of the five project areas, and why it matters. They are also encouraged to provide up to five megabytes of data (YouTube videos, artwork, poster presentation, blog entries, photos, etc.) to support their written application. Applications will be received until December 1, 2014.

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Contacts: Raymond L. Price, William H. Severns Chair of Human Behavior, Co-Director, Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/333-4309, [email protected] and Paul Ritter, Pontiac Township High School, [email protected]