We sat through two-and-a-half hours of presentations preparing us (writers, thinkers, journalists) for the coming two days of technical meetings. Speakers included the CEO, various vice presidents, and, oh, yes, three teenaged inventors.

Do not throw up your hands and mutter about “kids these days.” That’s a disservice. I am at an event sponsored by the technology supplier Rockwell Automation called Automation Fair. By the way, the company’s 28th annual gathering and my 22nd visit. The numbers of younger people, women, and “minorities” attending increases every year, and this year kept the trend up and to the left.

But back to the kids. The company sent out a challenge through various social media to students inviting them to invent something that would solve a social problem. The top three were given an all-expense trip (with parents) to Chicago to attend Automation Fair.

These three gave the best presentations of the day–content, presentation skills, poise, command of the audience. Yes, they had mentors, but that’s the key. Instead of complaining about kids, give them a useful challenge and then mentor them.

One project solved a problem with sump pumps not keeping up with ground water resulting in flooded basements. Areas of the US had large amounts of rain this spring and early summer flooding many basements. Many of the audience probably wanted to sign up to buy one.

Bullying remains a serious problem in schools (and other places where kids congregate). One young inventor came up with an anti-bullying backpack. It included a battery pack, two wifi-enabled web cameras, and communication. In a bully situation, the owner could quick-call an authority (parent, administrator, whatever) and show live video of the bullies. It also records to the cloud.

Sanitation kills more people throughout the world than just about anything else–lack of sanitation, that is. In many places, people just defecate in the street or wherever. Simple toilets requiring little to no water to operate widely available would save millions of live. The third young inventor actually invented such a device.

Make a difference. Find a way to mentor someone. Make it a discipline.

One last thing, Maria Kassarjian, executive director of Edesia, spoke on the efforts of her company, by the way using automation technologies from Rockwell, to create nutritional food packs to be sent to areas where malnutrition is a huge problem. The products contain peanuts, a nutritionally dense food, for both nourishment and also to introduce infants to nuts in order to reduce the prevalence of nut allergies.

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