I’ve always been passionate about STEM education and the opportunities it creates for the next generation. I’m proud to be a board member at the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation given their mission to inspire the innovator in everyone. One of my favorite parts of being a board member is participating in the annual Tech Challenge, and at this year’s event, I was once again reminded why.

For many years, Cisco has been supporting the Tech Museum as part of fulfilling our vision to change the way that people learn, a mission that is reflected at the Tech every day. In partnership with the Cisco Foundation and former Cisco CEO John Morgridge, Cisco has donated resources to help them multiply their impact by taking the wealth of knowledge and inspiration that the Tech has to offer to Silicon Valley and beyond.

I was thrilled to watch future engineers in action!

This year, students in grades 4-12 were tasked with engineering a solution to the “Drop and Dash” – dropping a device 10 feet and moving a payload of materials up a ramp without the use of batteries or electricity.  I was reminded of the importance of the Tech’s mission as I watched future engineers of America in action. As an engineer myself, I was eager to share with more than a thousand students that they were all born engineers with limitless potential.

Students engineered a solution to the “Drop and Dash.”

The Tech Challenge amplifies the three hallmark attributes of an engineer:

  • Curiosity. When these students first started the challenge, they questioned, they asked how and why, and they wondered. It’s curiosity that helps us learn how we can improve.
  • Creativity. When it came to their challenges, students found hundreds of ways that didn’t work, and dozens of ways that did – and it bolstered their creativity.
  • Collaborative. We know that individuals alone who are curious and creative can bring together amazing innovation. But, it is actually teams of people who are curious and creative who come together and solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Cisco technology leveled the playing field for all participants.

The Challenge has been ongoing since the fall, with a final showcase – held April 28-29 – to demonstrate each team’s solution to the problem. The month before the final showcase, the Tech offered test trials for kids to test their inventions on the competition course with a coach onsite. However, not all teams could be at the Tech in person for these trials, due to limited resources. So, this year, Cisco donated two WebEx video endpoints to the Tech to enable a remote team to participate!

The team was unable to travel due to resource constraints, but still eagerly demonstrated their invention to the head judge via WebEx Conferencing.
As a bonus – the team got even more coaches because many others (including the CEO of the Tech) wanted to experience Cisco’s technology in action.

Months of preparation paid off!

During the months leading up to the final event, students learned the process of engineering – doing research, imagining a solution, trying, failing, adjusting and trying again in order to succeed. You could see the dogged determination and emotional investment in their faces and read it in their engineering journals. It was truly inspiring.

It was rewarding to see the wide range of creative solutions that the student engineers brought to life (not to mention the costumes!). One team built a vehicle around a measuring tape that popped open when it hit the ground, then used the force of the measuring tape unwinding to push its payload up the ramp. Another group built a catapult to propel their payload up the ramp. One team even constructed an airplane that shot out when it hit the ground.

The Tech Challenge shows why the world needs a diversity of engineers and business leaders to be sure we are creating technology to benefit everybody.

A hush would fall over each team as they watched intently as their invention started up the ramp.

Thanks to the Tech, our amazing Cisco volunteers and Cisco, these events are possible!

Special thanks to the Tech for creating such a well-run event that can touch the lives of so many. I’m proud of Cisco for supporting this event, for the 75 Cisco employees that have volunteered to coach, mentor, judge or otherwise help run the Tech Challenge; and for the Cisco technology that allowed teams with fewer resources to participate in the Tech Challenge more fully.

Cisco, in partnership with the Tech, plans to scale this event across the US and other countries over the next several years so that we can magnify the inspiration, the lives touched and the lessons learned to a much broader audience.

It was truly a privilege to judge this competition and witness the students’ hard work.

The San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country for education and innovation. In 2015, it was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, one of the highest honors a U.S. museum can achieve. For more information about the Museum, please visit their website.





Ruba Borno

SVP/GM, Global CX Centers