Nearly 7,000 people packed the Grand Garden Arena during IBM's Pulse 2011 celebration in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand to hear DEKA Research and Development Founder Dean Kamen extol the importance of integrating science and technology into the United States educational system.
Kamen, whose love of science and technology is evident, talked to the crowd about the work of his foundation, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) science and technology to students across the country.
He argued the problem with the way the United States is not that there isn't enough supply --good teachers and textbooks -- but that theres a lack of demand. Kamen said the lack of demand is the result of where society puts its emphasis.
"We just watched three hours of people in the entertainment industry paying tribute to themselves," Kamen said. "That's where we've put the emphasis in this society. We have to change that."
That was the inspiration for FIRST, Kamen says. It started out as a six-week competition in a New Hampshire gym with high school students, and it's blossomed into a three-month competition modeled after college basketball's March Madness. It now extends all the way down to elementary kids with the Lego league. The winners at each level get invited to the White House - just like the winners of athletic competitions like the Super Bowl.
"It's gratifying to see how it's grown over the years," Kamen said. "I could never have envisioned it growing so big when I started it, but I love it. It's been an amazing ride."
Kamen urged the attendees to consider getting involved with the program. He said the foundation is looking for passionate engineers and other science and technology professionals to mentor the country's next generation.
"It's all about access," Kamen said. "If you give kids access to science and technology, they will rise to the occasion -- and we need them to if we are expecting this country to remain competitive in the future."