Summer Camp For 21st Century SkillsOctober 28, 2013
Last Sunday I saw a fascinating piece on 60 Minutes about Jack Andraka. The video may be the best example of the importance of young people having 21st Century Skills that I’ve ever seen. Jack has recently become quite famous for accomplishing something that no one has ever been able to do: create an accurate test to catch pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages. What makes Jack’s story even more interesting is that he’s 15, and he began his work on this project at the age of 14.
When he was 14 Jack was deeply impacted by the loss of a family friend who passed away from pancreatic cancer. Upon learning that no form of early detection existed for the disease he decided to tackle the problem himself. Neither his parents nor his teachers thought that his pursuit made much sense. If the best scientific minds in the world couldn’t figure this out, how could a high school freshmen?
That’s where Jack’s unique character trait combination of creativity and persistence kicked in. He spent weeks and months reading everything that he could on the subject. Eventually he developed a working hypothesis that by detecting a specific protein produced by pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages that he could build an effective blood test.
And that’s where Jack’s grit and determination jumped into overdrive. He needed access to a sophisticated laboratory so that he could test out his theory. He wrote a trial proposal and submitted it to 200 different laboratories and researchers…and was flatly turned down by 199. But one person was intrigued by his work, a Dr. Anirban Maitra. Dr. Maitra was at the time a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and is now the current head of pancreatic cancer research at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He saw such promise in Jack’s work that he set him up with a space in his Baltimore laboratory and let him get to work (under the supervision of a post-doctoral candidate).
The process of science is not an easy one. Jack labored for months, testing his methods over and over again. Because he was innately comfortable with the experimental process, he was not discouraged when he initially lacked positive results. Instead, he continued on, confident that eventually he would develop the right technique for his testing regimen.
Amazingly, before Jack turned 15 he found the success he was seeking. His methods and results have been peer reviewed, and after much scrutiny appear to be the only accurate screening method for pancreatic cancer ever developed. He has since been the recipient of numerous national awards for scientific achievement, including at the prestigious Intel and Engineering Fair.
Jack appears to be the perfect illustration of the importance, and power, of young people mastering Non-Cognitive Skills (or what many refer to as 21st Century Skills). What are they? They are the traits like creativity, critical thinking, independence, resilience, and leadership. Coincidentally, they are also the very same skills Fortune500 employers say that they most want in their employees, and most rarely are able to find.
While he’s clearly incredibly smart, Jack acknowledges the 21st Century skills that helped him achieve this incredible goal:
I don’t think it’s that I’m really smart. I mean, I know people that are way smarter than me. You can be a genius, but if you don’t have the creativity to put that knowledge to use, then you just have a bunch of knowledge and nothing else. I mean, like, then you’re just as good as my smartphone.
Learning about Jack and his story makes me wonder if he ever went to summer camp. He seems to possess so many of the skills that quality camps focus on each summer. Skills like grit and resilience, applying creative ideas, becoming an effective communicator with peers and adults, and becoming comfortable with trial and error. For so many children camp is their laboratory for developing the incredibly powerful life skills that Jack Andraka exhibits. We know that these skills will only become more important to their success in the future.
If you have a moment take a look at this video presentation by Camps Kenwood & Evergreen’s Owner/Director Scott Brody. In it he gives an expanded explanation about the growing importance of 21st Century Skills, and how overnight camps are the optimal environment for learning them.