STEM++Inno: Applying Innovation to Develop Real-world Business Knowledge in Collaboration with NASA Patented Technologies


STEM++Inno is an experiential learning competition that adds innovation, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Data Science to a specified challenge. The institution’s theme-oriented challenges provide competitors with the opportunity and resources to both compete and collaborate to build knowledge, confidence, and crucial problem-solving skills.

STEM++Inno began as a Pilot based on the theme of NASA’s Patent Portfolio in 2018. The institution is organized as a Public Benefit Corporation and was further supported in 2019 by an unsolicited grant from NASA as well as sponsors. STEM++Inno’s social benefit is that it gives back by incubating life-long learning, career-readiness, and entrepreneurship. While it is STEM and Innovation focused, the institution extends STEM to holistically consider an entire individual including social-emotional, conflict resolution, business, presentation, and other skills.


Inclusive Curriculum and Pedagogies 

STEM++Inno’s project-based learning approach includes curated and original content following the ADEPT Machine Learning Architecture Framework as well as experienced mentoring presentations. The ADEPT framework is licensed from C3 Alliance and is organized around the five primary pillars of AI, Machine Learning and Data Science; Algorithms, Data, Ecosystem, Presentation, and Technology (ADEPT). The curriculum provides customization by starting at a strategic, functional level and includes ever-increasing detail into areas a student may desire to gain more depth. Ultimately, this is culminated by hands-on lab work for teammates combining research, business start-up, innovation, AI, ML and Data Science skills to prepare a presentation to industry judges.

Some competitors may just seek to understand functional and use case level of knowledge, while others may spend the time and effort for hands-on detailed instruction and practice. Designed from the founders’ real-world experiences, competitors/learners are rewarded correlated to the time and effort they invest.


Leadership That Navigates Tech-Advancements

Alan White is the CEO and CIO of STEM++Inno. He is a curator and navigator on the ever-changing river of AI, Machine Learning and Data Science advancement. In that role, he seeks to provide the practical, applicable capability to each learner’s effort. Alan believes that a missed opportunity by many executives is not taking advantage of young, nimble minds that are innovative and quick learners of new technologies.

Heather Lasky is the COO of STEM++Inno.  Heather’s deep and personal experience in the career development field as well as senior level corporate background makes her uniquely qualified to add a real-world component to rounding out a ‘whole professional’.

With a strong focus on inclusion, STEM++Inno encourages balanced teams to take advantage of all ages, skill sets, genders, learning types and other differences. More senior teammates are expected to provide their experience in the form of practical, real-world use cases. Given the vastness of the need, capabilities, and speed of advancement in today’s business world, this is achieved as a collaborative effort.


Adding Career Readiness and Mentorship for Learners

STEM++Inno’s approach of project-based (experiential) learning provides a theme-based, real-world competition to focus ones’ attention on a challenge at hand. The institution’s research and curated content approach are how it has seen professionals gain and advance their careers time after time. Adding the gamified competition and inclusive team component simulates project teams and allows learners to quickly gain skills from teammates or, for more skilled, allows them to mature their mentoring skills. An independently judged competition means that everyone has an equal chance to win.  However, beyond placing, the personal growth and teambuilding ensures everyone wins in the end. An independently judged presentation with constructive feedback is ultimately the ‘grade’.


Opportunity and Resources to Compete Globally

STEM++Inno is a competition with a necessary research and learning component. Its competition begins with the end in mind with informal teaching content that builds to an ultimate presentation of a team’s collective results. Similar to a real company project, the objective is defined but the means to complete are up to the team. Achieving the goal requires research, teamwork, personal advancement, planning and dedicated effort.


Maximizing Social Impact with Data

STEM++Inno broadens and deepens analytics and data science by spotlighting data skills as an innovation to everyday life and business. Alan says, “Data is everywhere around us. Only by understanding requirement needs and data potential to become actionable information, combined with experience and knowledge, fuels us to achieve wisdom.”


Data Progression That Drives Technology Trends

According to Alan, among the technical trends are the sheer amount of growth in data collected as a starting point. In addition, there are more tools capable of much more scalable performance and functionality. Management of environments in development through production is maturing. A growing variety of storage types, cloud capabilities, and pipeline/process hastens adoption and growth.

From a business standpoint, data is, even more, extending beyond customer acquisition and deeper into the business process and human interaction. As more business and technical professionals use data and models as a key component in much of their business lives, new challenges arise in transparency, explainability, privacy, access and regulation and that adds complexity.


Challenges of Educating Management

Alan believes combining Project-based Learning, STEM, and Innovation utilizing AI, Machine Learning and Data Science is not a concept all are able to grasp. The educational component to sponsors and partners has been a challenge. The ever-changing landscape of ‘data thinking’ requires an agile and scalable approach to content curation.


Succeeding with Exemplary Honours 

STEM++Inno competition has been recognized:

•  As a Pilot program by NASA Goddard in 2018

•  Received an unsolicited grant from NASA in 2019

•  Adapted by the NY State-funded Empire State Program in 2020

The institution has also received numerous testimonials from its partners and competitors.


An Analytics-Driven Future

Typing was a critical skill during the early, mechanical, paper-driven age. According to Alan, with the advances of automation, coding and database skills (typing certainly useful) became key. As increased automation tools become more capable of AI, machine learning and data science adding great scale and functionality, data analytics education will provide the next step to building professional skills. Analytics will evermore become just another part of everyone’s daily job function. Those with a life-long learning mindset and a deep and broad educational exposure will form a strong professional foundation to be best prepared for whatever business changes may happen in the future.

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