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X Stem MedIm

What influences an innovator to become an innovator? Ask that question to some of the most creative and prolific thinkers and inventors in STEM today and you'll likely collect a potpourri of answers -- ranging from tenacity and belief in oneself to exposure to positive family influences.

Such responses are indeed true, but even more to the point: The inspiration and groundwork to become an innovator in STEM, research shows, is usually laid in childhood or adolescence through meaningful, interactive learning experiences, often outside the classroom. This is why the Festival and its programs make the special effort to expose young students early to hands-on exploratory activities in non-traditional learning environments with exciting STEM role models.

The result is such experiences as the X-STEM Extreme STEM Symposium -- an unforgettable all-day event set for April 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. -- which will bring students, teachers and others up close and personal with some of the nation's foremost innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In a conference setting these noted experts (ranging from space explorers and world-renowned geneticists, to leading roboticists and cutting-edge startup entrepreneurs), will take you on a journey through their work and career -- including what inspired them to become innovators.

Here's just a sampling of the many STEM leaders you'll meet at X-STEM Symposium, and what influenced these experts to pursue their field:

--Believe in Yourself -- and Your Dream: It's hard to realize that Irwin Jacobs, the tech-savvy electrical engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded the telecommunications giant Qualcomm, was once told by his high school counselor: "There's no future in science or engineering. Go into the hotel business." Following this advice, Irwin did indeed study hotel administration for a while at Cornell University before pursuing the dream he had had since age 8: engineering. He made his first fortune -- about $25 million -- when he sold his initial telecommunications firm, Linkabit, in 1980.

--Participate as Students in STEM Outreach Programs: When you think of major space missions conducted by NASA in the last 20 years, it is a good bet that Aprille Joy Ericsson played a part in them. Aprille is an aerospace engineer and instrument manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and her desire to enter this field was spawned in high school when she participated in dynamic science outreach program for minorities called UNITE (now known as Minority Introduction to Engineering & Science, or MITES). This experience, she says, also led to her becoming a trailblazer: She is the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University (Washington, DC), and the first African American female at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering.

--Don't be Afraid to Think Critically and Solve Problems: He's sometimes called a modern-day Edison for the sheer number and impact of his inventions -- which range from the Segway human transporter to an advanced robotic prosthetic arm. But Dean Kamen is first and foremost a technological problem solver -- a love he has embraced since adolescence and which he has used adroitly as an innovator, and later to establish FIRST, the phenomenal hands-on learning experience in robotics and other STEM frontiers for youngsters. ¨Our mission at FIRST," says Dean, ¨is to show students that science, technology, and problem solving are not only fun and rewarding, but are proven paths to successful careers in STEM and innovation.

--Use Leadership Skills to Make a Difference on Multiple Fronts: Even before she assumed her current role at Google as Chief Innovation Evangelist, and Chief Technology Officer for the Public Sector, Michele R. Weslander Quaid was already widely known as a mover and shaker in STEM. Throughout her career, she has taken on the challenge of creating startups and transforming existing businesses in both industry and government, and in the process, becoming recognized as a leader of change, innovation, and organizational transformation. In the months following 9/11/2001, she particularly used these skills as an official for the U.S. government where she served in senior leadership posts (including as Deputy Technical Executive for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) to bolster national security.

--Combine Your Love of STEM With Non-STEM Areas: Although Vanessa Thompson is just 15 years old, this innovator is already making her mark both nationally and internationally by combining her love of math and storytelling to make mathematics "less scary and intimidating" for young students. Her website, which has been honored for excellence by the State of California and the U.S. Congress, uses videos solicited from math educators, students and others to turn math concepts into characters and math problems into stories so that learners can better understand, remember and apply math principles!

For more information, including bios, on other exciting X-STEM Symposium speakers, click here.