To support the next generation of inventors, USF Research & Innovation and the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame are partnering with The Florida High Tech Corridor, Hillsborough County Public Schools and STEM programs nationwide to provide innovative learning opportunities to students of all ages.
IGNITE, Inspiring Generations of New Inventors Through Engagement, is an initiative launched by the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame at USF Research & Innovation on the Tampa campus, to bring invention resources to students near and far, the Tampa Bay community and USF.
The program was inspired by inductee acceptance speeches made at the 2021 Florida Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which included Norma Alcantar, associate dean for research and professor of chemical, biomedical and materials engineering at USF. Many inductees called upon community members to inspire the next generation of inventors. While providing young innovators access to invention education resources, such as maker spaces, online curriculum and inventor mentors, the program strives to break low-income barriers and bridge gaps for minority and women inventors across the country.
“So much research shows that minorities and female students are less likely to become inventors if they don’t see inventors who look like them. This is an opportunity to change that,” said Jamie Spurrier, assistant program director of USF Research & Innovation and program manager of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. “It is our greatest hope that our contributions to the Florida innovation community, as well as the national innovation community, will have a ripple effect that leads to the advancement and betterment of society.”
To offer the inventor opportunities and resources to students nationally, IGNITE is partnering with Scoutlier, a free digital learning application that was developed to support interactive learning accessible on any device. The partnership will provide “IGNITE Challenges” to teachers and students – unique real-world applications of invention activities. The curriculum includes lessons hosted by IGNITE inventor mentors, as well as seasoned professionals who have volunteered to participate in the program and give back to students.
Inventor mentors will work one-on-one with students to guide them through academic and career choices. The mentors will share their innovation journey and help students navigate challenges.
“Having a mentor who believes in you gives you confidence and pushes you,” Alcantar said. She shared that her own mentor – a high school chemistry teacher – led to her finding her passion and pursuing a life of innovation. “She pushed me to enter a science fair and during the process, I ended up discovering I wanted to become a scientist.”
Since then, Alcantar dedicated her career to exploring mechanisms that mimic natural processes, with one of her largest inventions being new technologies to produce clean water. “Talking to students is so valuable and exposing them to innovation – it shows them they can do this!”
Students will have the opportunity to prototype their ideas at a maker space provided by the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation, a nonprofit located in Tampa that is home to the Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Center Fab Lab. The lab gives students access to resources not typically provided by schools or freely accessible, such as power and hand tools, 3D printing, prototyping, robotics and entrepreneurial support.
“A program like IGNITE brings high-quality innovation education to students in the community in an accessible, meaningful and relevant format not available to them in local schools or extracurricular programming,” said Terri Willingham, executive director of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation.
To further engage with students locally, IGNITE is coordinating an inventor mentor speaker series at Hillsborough County Public Schools and will be present at annual events, such as the Great American Teach-In and the county STEM fairs.
The team applied for a grant that will allow the existing partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools to grow. The funds would support Inventors@School, an expanded invention education program designed to teach students skills beneficial for working in STEM and allows for specialized training for educators to incorporate invention education into their curriculum.
“The online curriculum focuses on cultivating the innovation mindset and helping students develop the skills necessary for invention, such as creative problem solving, agility, resilience, teamwork and leadership,” Spurrier said. “These are all solid foundation skills that will set students up for success in their lives, career and their field as innovators.”
Students, teachers or professionals interested in becoming an inventor mentor are invited to submit the IGNITE Interest Form.