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June 10, 2007

Being Globalization Ready

The generation of kids who are now in high school could be hurt by globalization.  Craig DeLuca founded The Global Challenge to give these kids a better opportunity to be beneficiaries rather than victims of a closely-interconnected global economy.  Students enrolled in The Global Challenge use Skype, IM, and email to work as part of international teams entered in a worldwide competition.

2600 students from around the world competed in the 2006-2007 challenge.  Winners will be honored a barbeque here in Stowe (I’m looking forward to meeting them) and get to spend a week at Governor’s Institute on Engineering at the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, University of Vermont.  They get cash awards for scholarships as well as travel expenses paid.

From The Global Challenge website: “Many in the US consider globalization and foreign competition to be a threat, …Adjusting to this new dynamic is challenging for the citizens and workers of developing countries as well as developed countries.

“But we believe that the changing global landscape creates an opportunity for all nations to strengthen and expand global understanding and cooperation and to solve the world’s most intractable problems, including global climate change, poverty, and disease. Through The Global Challenge, students begin to think more about these problems with applied math and science skills before they graduate from high school.”

Craig, who like me is semi-retired in Vermont after selling a couple of businesses and is a non-golfer, told me what made him found The Global Challenge.  He was on the board of a high tech company.  He wasn’t surprised to find that the company was outsourcing its manufacturing to China; he was surprised and appalled to find out that it was also planning to outsource engineering – not based on cost so much as a lack of qualified engineers here in the States.  At the same time, he knew that the local school was preparing to save money by cutting the budget for science books.  And he’d just read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. “This is an educational problem,” Craig concluded.  Craig’s an engineer.  To engineers problems, once identified, need to get solved.

The pilot project linked kids in Stowe and next door Morrisville to students in several other countries.  It succeeded well enough to attract an $891,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and some other funding and grew to this year’s much bigger program.  Always the entrepreneur, Craig is talking about how to expand to 26,000 and then 260,000 students while drastically lowering the cost per participant.

This year’s challenge required students to work on the design and business plan for products to combat global warming with an accent on practical invention.  Since the teams are global, using communication tools as well as the Internet as an accessible resource is a huge part of the lesson.  The program is limited by necessity to those with a broadband connection – at least at school - and those who speak English.  Neither restriction has prevented many kids from India, China, Korea, Mexico and other countries from participating.

If there’s anything to quarrel with, it’s starting with an assumption that global warming is anthropogenic and can be reversed by decreasing the use of fossil fuels without identifying this as a working assumption rather than a fact.  Kids already have a problem with science education, as Craig has correctly diagnosed; part of their expanded education should be to remember to question almost everything.  This is a quibble, though; most of their projects were as useful for reducing dependence on oil – good idea for a whole host of reasons – as reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Should you be so inclined, you can help The Global Challenge with a donation or you can encourage someone to enroll in next year’s program.

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