It’s happening all over the United States, government funds are being cut and private individuals and companies are stepping in to give financial support to the causes they believe in. In Ford Motor Companies case, today, it was children and innovation via the Smithsonian Spark! Lab geared to children ages 6-12 years old.
I walked over to the Ford press conference at the 2013 Washington auto show. Fourth grader Kayla, from Cornerstone School in Washington DC, was placing a marble on a set of downward sloping xylophone keys that would bounce from one to the other, making noise all the way down. I asked Kayla if there were a way to mute the noise and I got a bewildered look. To a kid noise is everything. To a car manufacturer, noise is designed in the car, or muted out of the car.
Imagine walking into an automotive manufacturing plant with workers crowded around a table working on a chassis frame, another table full of people working on noise and vibration, another table working on the design of the car. Transport that idea to the Washington auto show, and instead of experts, insert a bunch of fourth graders from the Cornerstone School. What these two scenarios have in common is that they both need money to create and innovate. Ford Motor Company announced today that it will collaborate with the Smithsonian Spark! Lab program to fund innovation and creation in three different spots, somewhere in the United States.
“We’re not sure where the three new Smithsonian Spark! Labs will be yet, but that is a good idea”, said Jeffrey L. Brodie, Deputy Director, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, when asked if one of the Labs might be built at the Henry Ford Museum.
The question caught Edsel Ford more off-guard than it did Brodie. Ford is an Aviation buff, Great-Grandson of Henry Ford and a member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, “It’s up to the Smithsonian. You’ll have to ask them, but it’s a good idea.” When asked about the children working at the tables Ford explained, “The display is a representation of the Spark! Lab and a representation of Ford’s commitment to the community.” Ford said that over the years Ford Motor Company has given $10,000,000 to the Smithsonian, all in the name of education.
In Ford’s speech announcing the funding Edsel Ford said the Smithsonian Spark! Lab is an innovators lab shop that combines math, science, art, music and social interaction, “Invention is a process. We give this money to encourage innovation to the next generation of Henry Fords.”
Leah English, Cornerstone’s teacher, was impressed with the kids, “they had different ideas, different uses for different sets of materials. Yet they collaborated well together and there was selfless interaction.”
By the end of the press conference the 8 and 9-year olds had put together some pretty good designs, a couple that could roll down the hill, a chassis out of PVC pipes and Kayla had thought of a couple ways to insulate sound, something any parent would pay good money not to hear.