I am thankful for a lot of things in my life: my awesome family, my amazing (now former) school and the supportive, kind group of friends I am so fortunate to have, to name just a few. There is another item on my list of thankfulness which would surprise most people. Before I enlighten you as to what the mystery list item is, I’ll set the scene and give some background on me. I’ve just finished high school in the UK, and I’m a massive fan of Science and Maths as well as most Sci-Fi and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, I’m Canadian-American, but usually identify as Canadian (because Canadians are better at hockey). Anyway, that mystery item from earlier is a 16 year old me tiredly checking the Make Magazine blog late at night in 2011 and reading an article about the first International Space Apps Challenge. Now I should emphasise that I was very tired at the time, so all I could remember in the morning about the event was that it was the next weekend, NASA was involved and I really wanted to go. The reason I now believe deeply in sleep procrastination is that it started me down a path of innovation and free T-shirts that has culminated with me starting as an intern for NASA in the Open Innovation Program.
That first Space Apps Challenge was a whirlwind experience. I had always seen NASA as riding atop an ivory tower of scientific awesomeness; disconnected from my life, but still really inspiring to me. I was excited to be able to connect with NASA, as well as other organisations doing similarly groundbreaking work, in a more direct way. The Oxford venue (the International Space Innovation Centre, or ISIC) was truly incredible, with monitor walls, 3D projectors and helpful people galore. The collaborative atmosphere was palpable, and it took no time at all for me to find some people to work with. After the initial meet and greet, team finding etc business, I found myself working in a more productive and creative way than I had in a long time and by the end of the weekend I had helped to produce two solutions. The first was a collection of cool real-time visualisations of data from space, the second was a way to bake bread in space using limited resources. I’ll probably talk more in depth about the stories of these solutions in a future post. It was from this first Space Apps Challenge that I initially formed a link with the awesome, all-knowing (and probably reading this) people in the Open Innovation Program at NASA.
This link developed over the course of the year and a bit after the first Space Apps Challenge, with the help of Nick Skytland, Chris Gerty, Ali Llewellyn and others, into an even more direct connection to NASA: starting as an intern there! It’s somewhat ironic that the focus of my work with NASA is on how we can improve the way we run mass collaboration events in the future, given that those very events are what brought me to this position in the first place! So while I say that I’m thankful for checking a blog at the opportune moment, I guess what I am actually thankful for is the opportunity to work with the amazing people at the Open Innovation Program.