We’ll never sleep again. NSF I-Corps Begins

What exactly is the Innovation Corps? Why is AnnMaria not returning my calls/ emails / meeting requests? Will Maria, AnnMaria and Juliana ever sleep again? Which of them lives at LAX Terminal 7 and which in the Delta terminal at MSP?

Read on to have all of these questions answered.

Overall, I’d say the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, fondly known as I-Corps, is a good idea.

Disclaimer: Opinions are mine and not the NSF which would probably put a happier spin on this.

In short, NSF spends $7-8 billion a year funding a fourth of all federal STEM research. Awesome, right? Well, NSF has decided they would like to get more “bang for their buck” (not literally unless maybe you’re in physics).

Here is how it used to go …

Let’s say I have a brilliant idea for education. I’m sitting in my office in the Department of Making Things at Important University and I say,

“Hey, I have a brilliant idea! Teachers need to communicate with other teachers, right? Communication is good! My innovation is headsets for teachers like coaches in the NFL. The NFL is high performance, right? I’ll have all these headsets hooked up so they can hear each other and the principal. Teachers can communicate all day! Test scores will go up!”

I review the research literature on communication systems, write up a design for this system and eventually NSF gives me money to build a prototype and then a commercial product. Over a million dollars later, it turns out that teachers really don’t want headsets. They actually wanted a class website that they could share with others at their school. Even though your headset system works brilliantly, it is not what they needed.

Where I-Corps Comes In

Now, NSF has decided that before anyone can apply for one of their innovation grants they need to go through a program where they actually talk to over 100 people in the field they are trying to innovate.

Our team, of AnnMaria De Mars, Maria Burns Ortiz and Juliana Taken Alive is focused on innovations for educational programs serving economically disadvantaged students aged 8-14. So, we need to fly around the country and talk with school administrators, after school program directors and educators with expertise in serving economically disadvantaged students. If that’s you, help a sister out and email me at annmaria@7generationgames.com

I’m writing this from my window seat on the first of 13 flights I will be taking in the next month. That’s only what we have scheduled so far and we also have several days in Las Vegas for the National Association of Bilingual Education conference.

I-Corps: Week 1

First of all, it was a 10-month process to get into the national level I-Corps, but we did it – yay! Now there are three books and a dozen videos to watch before the first session, a technical video and presentation to create. We all converge on LA – Maria from Minnesota and Juliana from South Dakota for three 21-hour days. There are 6 hours or more of meetings each day with the I-Corps faculty or our fellow teams presenting. We need to do a minimum of 5 interviews on day 1 and we only have 4.5 hours to do it, COUNTING driving in LA traffic to get to the interviews! We have 7 hours to do 7 more interviews on day 2.

So … 6+ hours of sessions, 6+ hours of interviews each day and individual teams meet with an instructor at the end of each day. We got back to our rooms at 10 pm or so after having gotten up at 6:30 am.


We conducted two more interviews since, so now we are up to 22.

We’re not done …

Each morning at 7 am there is a presentation due. Juliana and I contributed our notes and read it over but Maria, as the team lead, had to present it. Also, Juliana is finishing the last few courses for her doctorate, so she had assignments to complete in the evening. She is the Director of Indian Education for the state of South Dakota. As you can imagine, we all had a hundred emails and voice mails to answer at the end of the day from our “day jobs”.

I managed to fall into bed every night around 1:30 or 2 am. Since Maria had to create our business canvas and enter all the interviews in the system, she was up until 3:30 every morning.

Three hours later, we were all falling out of bed, with Juliana and I making any last minute edits by 6:50 so Maria could upload our presentation to the system by 7.

You can imagine how happy this all made me, since there is not enough coffee in Colombia to make me a morning person.

I live at LAX now

We have a minimum of 78 more interviews to do but we are aiming to complete many more than that. I do believe that schools in downtown Los Angeles, Detroit and Standing Rock have different needs. So far, though, I have been surprised to hear Juliana so she found many similarities. I don’t think that 12 – 15 people per state is really adequate to give the NSF all the data they should have and it would be preferable to go to more than 8 states.

So …. I have 13 flights scheduled over the next month, plus driving to Las Vegas and back. Currently I am scheduled for California, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan and Nevada. I’m waiting to hear back from folks in Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico. If we have the money left, we are interested in meeting with schools serving Native Hawaiian students as well.

Pro tip: When you go to Minnesota or Michigan in February no one suspects you are doing it just for fun, so that’s a rubber stamp to get approved!

If you have any connections to experts in K-8 education in any of those states, hook a sister up!

Please email me at annmaria@7generationgames.com any contacts. Thank you! If you’re at LAX in Terminal 7, wave at me as I run by.

You can also follow our journey on the 7GenGames TV YouTube channel.

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