Bristol-Myers Squibb Employees Encourage Young Connecticut Inventors
The annual Connecticut Invention Convention draws thousands of people, including hundreds of kindergarteners through eighth graders competing for Invention Awards.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much in common between Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Mission to “discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases” and “The Bug-inator.”
The latter, invented by a Wallingford, Connecticut, third grader, is a modified version of one of those long-reach, household pickup tools. In place of the rubber gripper cups on the end are two small aquarium nets that come together when the trigger is squeezed, trapping the unlucky bug at a safe distance.
The Bug-inator was one of roughly 100 student inventions recently presented to a team of judges from Bristol-Myers Squibb as part of the Connecticut Invention Convention, an award-winning science program that turns school children into inventors -- and hopefully into tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.
The program, sponsored in part by a community grant from the company’s Research and Development unit in Wallingford, challenges students to identify some vexing problem in their lives, brainstorm solutions and develop the most promising ideas into workable prototypes. Their inventions are first presented at local school competitions, where volunteer judges help pick the finalists for the statewide Invention Convention, which was held May 1 at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Employees Go Back To School
Christian S. is one of eight Bristol-Myers Squibb employees serving as judges this year, and for several weeks before the convention he and his co-workers have been attending local school competitions in Connecticut. Visiting with these young inventors at their display tables, Christian and the others said they couldn’t help but see parallels between what the children were trying to accomplish and their own scientific work.
“The ultimate problem that we at Bristol-Myers Squibb try to solve is how to make someone’s life better -- how to find a therapy that addresses an unmet need,” says Christian, an engineer. “These kids are doing the same thing. They’re looking at problems and asking themselves how they can make it better.”
Lynn K., a director in R&D, says the program encourages the critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving techniques that are fundamental to the process of scientific discovery and to life at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
“We’re a very innovative company in developing medicines, and in all of the processes supporting that,” she says. “I always encourage staff to look for innovative approaches and to challenge assumptions and the status quo, so it seems appropriate for me to be out there encouraging children to do this as well.”
Spirit of Invention Is Alive and Well
The Bristol-Myers Squibb team didn’t have to look far for examples of creative problem solving. The spirit of invention was alive and well right in their backyard at the two Wallingford elementary schools they visited in February, the Cook Hill School and the Moses Y. Beach School.
Chris B., also an engineer, recalls a fire safety invention of a fourth grade girl. During her research, she had come across a study that found many children aren’t awakened by traditional smoke alarms. Her solution: Put a wireless alarm inside a stuffed animal the child takes to bed that gets activated by any alarm in the residence.
Another innovation -- one meant to help children find their seatbelts in dark cars -- won the admiration of Christian, a father with some experience waiting for kids to buckle up. Simple nightglow paint applied to the push button and the buckle made locating the belts a snap.
Lynn, an avid gardener, was impressed by the “Rain Cane,” a length of one-inch polyvinyl chloride pipe with a funnel on top. The Rain Cane gets driven into the ground next to plants. It makes watering easy and provides a sturdy support for plants that need staking.
While the prospect of reaching the state convention adds some excitement -- one recent finalist was a guest on “Ellen,” the TV talk show hosted by Ellen DeGeneres -- the organizers of the Connecticut Invention Convention say the program’s goal is definitely not to identify the world’s next blockbuster invention.
“The real intent is to recognize as many young people as possible, and to foster interest in science and engineering,” says Helen C., director of Development for the Connecticut Invention Convention non-profit organization.
She says the elementary school years are the most critical time for instilling that interest, citing research that found 65 percent of students make decisions regarding a science career by the eighth grade.
“So if we’re waiting for high school to motivate these kids through things like robotics programs and the like, many will have already made their decisions,” Helen explains.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Supports Math and Science Education
That same sense of urgency, fueled by concern for the lagging performance of American students in science and math in general, has prompted Bristol-Myers Squibb to lead and support numerous initiatives over the past 10 years aimed at making the study of science and technology more exciting to young learners.
From funding efforts like the Connecticut Invention Convention, to developing new science curricula, to supporting teacher training centers in colleges, Bristol-Myers Squibb has been striving to encourage greater interest and achievement in math and science in students of all ages.
“For more than a decade, Bristol-Myers Squibb has supported efforts to enhance the quality of science and mathematics education in the communities where our employees live and work,” says John H., a Bristol-Myers Squibb senior vice president. “Much of that work is grounded in our belief that science learning works best through hands-on experimentation, inquiry and discovery, which is precisely the approach of the Connecticut Invention Convention.”
Helen expresses gratitude for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s corporate sponsorship and extends special thanks to the employees volunteering as judges. She describes their involvement as an extra gift for the students, giving them real-life role models in the field of scientific discovery.
Chris B., an inventor himself with one patent to his credit and several others pending, says his favorite moment was his interaction with a group of younger elementary school students participating in the program for the first time.
“They were so proud of the fact that they were inventors this year,” he says. “I asked them if they were going to do it next year and they said, ‘Yeah, we can’t wait.’ Then I said: ‘You don’t have to wait until next year. You can invent all the time.’ The looks on their faces, it was like an epiphany.”