Siemens grooms future scientists

December 11, 2011

Officials at industrial conglomerate Siemens AG tapped the skills of tech-savvy teenagers to address some pressing scientific challenges: How might an amputee soldier use the Xbox 360 gaming system to help him walk? And how might a doctor use a smartphone to detect a gastrointestinal disease in an infant?

In its flagship charity event, Siemens flew more than a dozen high school students from across the country to the District to take part in the recent 13th annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, organized by the company’s foundation.

In a dark George Washington University theater, facing a panel of judges, students stood center stage clicking through a large PowerPoint backdrop to explain how their research will help in the treatment of childhood liver disease or answer unsolved mathematical problems.

The foundation awarded $500,000 in college scholarships to winners of the six teams and six individuals who competed.

“We depend on innovation and engineering and scientific advances for all the products we produce,” said Thomas McCausland, chairman of the Siemens Foundation. “This event is very consistent with what the objectives of the corporation ... [to] encourage young people to go into math and science disciplines.”

It’s a mission the company began in 1998 when it established the foundation. Since then, it has invested $7 million into STEM education programs. The foundation established an academy that offers professional development training for educators. It also adopts schools, such as Langley Education Campus in Northeast Washington, offering hands-on science activities for students.

Siemens acquired the science competition in 1997 as part of its purchase of Westinghouse Electric, which previously ran it. The contest had been confined largely to Eastern states, but Siemens’s senior management expanded it to a national competition with an independent judging panel.

Organizers invited the College Board, which administers the SAT, to find judges for the competition. They also partnered with universities to host the regional competitions, which this year drew 60 projects.

The finalists were flown to the District for a weekend of exhibitions, luncheons, dinners and dancing.

Winner of the individual grand prize was Angela Zhang, a senior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., who demonstrated how to use technology to zap cancer stem cells.

“A lot of the issues we have — whether global warming, clean air, clean water, transportation … — are [steeped] in science, so these students are making contributions to the betterment of the world,” said McCausland.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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