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MITRE’s Nano Kids Have a Real-World Impact

Sometimes, you find best practices in action that give you hope for the future in the midst of the negative economic and political realities we face daily in the mainstream media. One such best practice comes to us from MITRE Corporation. It’s news that ought to make us all optimistic about the future.

MITRE’s student program is a unique, nationally renowned summer educational experience for outstanding high school students and college undergraduates. It offers students technical positions working on problems involving the application of advanced science and engineering to innovative problems of national importance. Since 1989, the program has motivated several hundred students to continue their studies in science and engineering and to go on to become technical professionals. Each summer the program brings between twenty to forty exceptional young people to the MITRE Corporation’s campus in Northern Virginia. There, they work for eight to twelve weeks in paid positions in fields such as economics, computer science, systems engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, and nanotechnology.


As a KKZZ 1400 AM substitute radio host, I recently interviewed James Ellenbogen, PhD, the MITRE Student Program Coordinator. In talking about what many in the company call their “Nano Kids,” James speaks with passion about what collaborating with bright, focused teens can mean to a company, to the teen, and to the society. Dr. Ellenbogen said, “It isn’t just that the kids have a job for the summer and learn. It’s about them being genuinely useful and showing them that they can have a contribution and really change the world.”

A key element of the program is the one-on-one mentorship by members of MITRE’s skilled technical staff. Each student works on a technical problem that has the potential for real-world impact and benefit to the nation. They often see the results of their technical projects featured in the national news. Students also benefit by publishing the results of their work in major scientific journals and even obtaining patents on their inventions. A number of students have gone on to win honors based upon their research at MITRE. These honors include prizes in local and national science contests, as well as undergraduate scholarships and prestigious graduate fellowships.

Dr. Ellenbogen points out, “Before we started in nanotechnology, there was a lot of speculation, but not a lot of results. But the kids, it didn’t stop them in the least. They dug right in and helped the entire nation move forward, especially in the field of advanced electronics.”

If you want to be inspired and learn more, you won’t want to miss my interview with Dr. James Ellenbogen on KKZZ 1400 AM Radio in Ventura, CA. Read on or listen now to my third episode of Pocket Paulson! While you are there, don’t forget to sign up for future podcast episodes!

As he noted, students get to work on and apply their nascent, but growing technical skills to these high profile problems, often seeing the results of their own technical projects featured in the national news. Students also have benefited by getting to publish the results of their work in major scientific journals and even obtain patents on their inventions. As a result of their efforts, a number of the participants in the MITRE Student Program also have gone on to win honors and awards based upon research efforts that they conducted or began at MITRE. These honors have included prizes in local and national science contests, as well as undergraduate scholarships and prestigious graduate fellowships.

Frequently, their summer experience at MITRE motivates them to return in successive summers. Some go on to make their adult careers at MITRE. However, the ultimate goal of MITRE’s Student Program is to see its “graduates” go out into the wider world and benefit the entire nation. Over the years, a large number of graduates have joined the faculty and staff of major universities and corporations across the nation. Several are well on their way to becoming national leaders in their technical specialties and a few have gone on to start successful businesses. If you would like more information about MITRE’s student program, please contact them directly at www.mitre.org.

As I often say to teenagers who want to know what career path to embrace, don’t worry. Half of what you could do has not been invented yet! Just learn how to learn and embrace the journey. Many are saying that youths today need to lower their expectations. MITRE is one company that is helping teenagers prove that they can have an impact now!

Listen to all of Dr. Ellenbogen’s Pocket Paulson interview, and you may find out more about how your organization can build a win/win relationship with your own “Nano Kids!” That will help provide your optimism advantage.

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