The Mentor Becomes the Mentee

The most gratifying aspect of the work I am blessed to do centers on our mission to educate and inspire the next generation of young people in science and technology... frankly, it's why I've been here at Arizona Science Center as its CEO for the last 11 years -- it's such important and gratifying work. But after all these years, even I can still be surprised. While I thought it was my role to develop the programs and resources to create those educational and inspirational opportunities, it turns out that the very same young people we seek to serve can in fact educate and inspire me. Here's the story.

This past year we opened an amazing new facility, CREATE at Arizona Science Center, a place where science, design, and engineering collide! Inspired by the productivity of an inventor's workshop, the creativity of an art studio, the experimentation of a lab, and the connectivity of a commons, CREATE is a 6,500 square-foot community hub for turning dreams into reality. The goal for the space is to move us towards our longer range objective of creating a science literate society that is not only more keenly aware of the world around them but is also inspired to make their own new discoveries and develop innovative solutions to the issues of our day. Also known as a "Maker Space", CREATE takes the concept to new levels. Thanks to the amazing support of many generous donors, we were able to fill CREATE with some of the most technologically advanced tools and equipment in use today. It was just one of these pieces of high-tech equipment that attracted the three Gillespie brothers, Reagan, Carson and Keane, to help them solve a big problem that they had.

Home-schooled and actively encouraged by their parents Debbie and Michael to pursue their dreams and interests, the boys, aged 14, 11 and 9 respectively, have been involved in the Maker movement for a couple of years. Inspired by what they saw at the Maker Faire, they developed a 3D maze in a cube that they built themselves. It was such an impressive design they were encouraged to build a very large scale acrylic version of the maze, dubbed Cubis Maximus, which would go on a national tour to inspire other young people. Unfortunately, they did not have access to the fabrication equipment necessary, at least not until they came to CREATE. It turns out that our Shop Bot CNC Mill is one of the largest made, and was just the ticket for what they needed. With the help of our able mentors, the boys were able to complete their project, and Cubis Maximus is now on its tour around the country. But it was when I got a chance to meet with them and their parents that I came to understand the real value of CREATE and the work we do.

As I said, these boys were truly inspiring to me, and in ways that frankly caught me by surprise. I thought when I was going to meet them I would be able to share some of my experiences to help motivate them, but in fact it turned out the other way around. First I learned that they have moved on from their maze project, and are now in the process of forming a company to develop a new 3D-printer technology they are designing... what?! I need to get more ambitious! When asked about what they are finding, 9-year-old Keane told me of the importance of never giving up, being persistent even in the face of failure. Note to self, never give up! They went on to tell me about the importance of teamwork, and how each member of the team can bring different talents and strengths to the effort. I reminded myself that I need to be sure that I properly value my own team. When they told me of the importance of developing a strong network of support, I had a quick peek at my contacts to reassure myself. Check! So the tables turned... the mentor became the mentee, and I got far more from them than I ever expected. It is so gratifying to see the impact of our work coming to life with the Gillespie family. They reinforced for me the meaning of our work and the impact it has on young people's lives, as well as mine... I love my life!!