Coding, Conversation, and Cooperation

The Innovators began the day in Cambridge. Those who participated in activities at the Koch Institute switched over to the MIT Media Lab, and vice-versa. A balanced curriculum is vital to the goals of the Richi Innovation Camp!

The Innovators at the Koch Institute!

The Innovators at the Koch Institute!

Afterwards, the Innovators gathered for a session called Awakening Vocations. The Innovators are at the cusp of deciding which career path they will take. Will it be in the life sciences, or in engineering? Within each of these subsets, will they choose to be a civil engineer or a chemical one? Do they want to engage in biological research or become a doctor? And if they do become a doctor, will they be a pediatrician or a surgeon? If they do engage in research, will they focus on drug development or genetic enhancement?

Narrowing down a career can be a challenging and near-impossible task, but today, the Innovators had a session with Lauren Celano, the CEO of Propel Careers. She helped them determine their interests and potential as well as the things to consider when choosing a vocation—and, on that note, the things not to consider.

The Innovators with Lauren Celano

The Innovators with Lauren Celano

The Innovators with Erik Rocheford

The Innovators with Erik Rocheford

Next, they met with Erik Rocheford for a lecture on networking. One of the most crucial components to any career is networking, or the ability to make solid, lasting, professional relationships. Very few jobs are hired through a blind application, especially those that are more advanced (and, in the same vein, more prestigious and better-paying). To grow a career successfully, you must network. Keep in touch with old bosses and coworkers, go to conferences and events, and maintain a professional demeanor at all times in the workplace!

The Innovators hard at work as they code their robots!

The Innovators hard at work as they code their robots!

After lunch, the Innovators gathered at Suffolk for a continuation of their robot program. Yesterday, they built their robots, and today, they learned how to code them with the help of Coding With Kids! Coding With Kids is a program that has helped hundreds of schools and children across the country establish clubs and teach curious young minds how to program. Coding is an incredibly helpful skill, especially for those who seek a career in the STEAM industries.

Collaboration in Cambridge

The Innovators started off this morning with a visit to MIT. One groups went to visit the world-famous Koch Institute, the cancer research center. There, they engaged in a “short course” called “You Be the Cancer Researcher.” In an activity called “What does cancer look like?”, the students gained an overview of general cancer biology as well as an overview of MIT’s research approach, watching videos of cell division, examining tissue samples under microscopes, and learning the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue in a variety of organs. They then discussed the various manners in which cancer is treated and the importance of laboratory research. To test out different methods and improve their laboratory skills, the students pipetted solution into multi-well plates, learning how to use general equipment utilized in many experiments. Finally, the Innovators got an exclusive tour of two of the research engineering labs.

The other group visited MIT’s Media Lab, a lab that encourages the unconventional approach and mixture of many different fields of research. There, the Innovators learned about various ongoing projects, deepening their understanding of the benefit of a convergence of design and technology in the development and production of groundbreaking technology. More than the production side, they also learned about the potential of the collaboration of academia and industry. Tomorrow, the two will switch place!

The Innovators at MIT’s Media Lab!

The Innovators at MIT’s Media Lab!

Afterwards, the Innovators joined a few professionals at MIT for a career panel. They learned more about what to take into account when choosing their vocation, and reflected on their interests and potential. They also got a better sense of what a career in the STEAM industries mean. The career professionals present included the founder of CheckMate Diabetes, a platform dedicated to providing insight and trends and a virtual support platform to those afflicted with diabetes; a lead scientist at BioDevek, a startup founded at MIT dedicated to providing better medical devices and technology; the director of innovations at ChileMass, a nonprofit organization devoted to catalyzing collaboration between Chile and the Commonwealth in terms of energy, technology, education, and venture capital; and the cofounder and CEO of LuminDx, a company focused on improving skincare with technologies such as computer vision and AI.

Then, the Innovators took a break and went on tour of Harvard University, one of the best universities in the world located conveniently in Cambridge. Harvard is the oldest university in the United States, and its alumni include several US presidents, famous writers, politicians, scientists, musicians, and performers.

The Innovators visiting Harvard University

The Innovators visiting Harvard University

The Innovators build their own personal robots!

The Innovators build their own personal robots!

After Harvard, the Innovators came back to Suffolk for a session called My Robot and I, where they learned how to build their own robots. As a special gift, the Innovators get to keep the robots they build!. This session will go on for a couple of days and tomorrow, the Innovators will learn how to code their robots. Keep tuned for more information on their projects!

Emerson Monks

Nature in the City

This weekend, the Innovators had some free time to cut back, relax, and explore. On Saturday morning, some of the Innovators went on a guided tour of the world-famous Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, or Boston’s baseball team. Some Innovators took the opportunity to buy tickets for a Sunday night game!

The Innovators at Fenway Park!

The Innovators at Fenway Park!

Then, in the afternoon, the Innovators took to the seas for a whale-watching expedition. The waters off of the coast of Massachusetts are rich with sea creatures, including humpback, minke, right, pilot, and finback species. In addition to whales, several species of tuna are found in that stretch of the Atlantic, as well as sea bass, and the Innovators caught a glimpse of many lobster pots. (Or, as pronounced like a Massachusetts native: “lobstah.”)

A humpback whale breaching… a rare and beautiful sighting!

A humpback whale breaching… a rare and beautiful sighting!

The Innovators were fortunate enough to see several humpback whales—including one that breached, or jumped, a rare behavior glimpsed on about 10% of whale-watching forays—two minke whales, and a finback whale. Finbacks are the second-largest animal on earth, ranging from about forty to seventy feet in length, only beat by the blue whale. They also caught an incredible view of the Boston skyline as they came in and out of the harbor.

In the evening, some of the Innovators explored the area around the New England Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in the world. On Sunday, many took the chance to simply travel around the city and all of its diverse neighborhoods. 

Emerson Monks

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A Practical Melting Pot

The Innovators spent today at the classrooms in Suffolk. Their day was jam-packed with learning and informative, engaging seminars. 

First came a session with Borja Peropadre, the Director of Technical and Strategic Alliances at Zapata Computing. Zapata is a quantum computing startup created in Harvard University in 2017. The startup is dedicated to developing quantum computing algorithms and software to alleviate looming problems in the computational industry.

The Innovators pose with Borja after his lecture

The Innovators pose with Borja after his lecture

Quantum computing is rooted in mathematics and physics. The computers are incredibly powerful—they can solve issues like complex factoring, improve machine learning optimization, and improve encryption techniques. There are two leading prototypes for quantum computers—trapped ions and superconducting circuits. The Innovators learned the pros and cons of each as well as the overall importance of the computers in today’s modern, ever-evolving world.

Then, the Innovators collaborated for some time on the the Challenge, oiling and fine-tuning their ninety-second pitch to prepare themselves for another session in the evening.

After lunch, the Innovators enjoyed a session from Chuck Goldstone, a master of storytelling. He taught the Innovators how to get others to listen, like you, and do what you want. 

It’s all about a personal story. The key to making a presentation excellent is making a presentation memorable—when telling a story, the key is to make it about the audience instead of the storyteller themselves. Find out what is in the audience—or stakeholder’s—interest, and how to best serve them.

To be successful, you need a good idea and a great way to communicate and ensnare your audience. No matter the actual subject of the company, there must be a successful communications department.

Presentations should not merely be a dry PowerPoint lecture with bullet points. The concept of visual learning and support is one of the most important things to attend to in today’s society. Every presentation must begin by capturing attention and engaging audience members. Keep the technical information to a minimum at first—like a newspaper article, start broad and then taper to narrow details. Make your presentation clear and memorable and drive action. Emphasize a narrative and emotional link. 

The Innovators learned some key tips to improve their presentations for the Challenge—tips like minimizing the amount per slide, making effective use of feedback, and doing away with pesky, distracting transitions and animations. Keep reading for more updates on those presentations!

The Innovators listening to Chuck’s talk on presentation skills

The Innovators listening to Chuck’s talk on presentation skills

Improv practice!

Improv practice!

After a short break, the Innovators reconvened for a session with Cheryl Lekousi, a hospital clown. Cheryl works with Hearts and Noses, a troupe of clowns that go around to hospitals to cheer up young, sick children. Her clown is named Tic Toc. 

Cheryl taught the Innovators about improvisation, or acting without preparation. The Innovators did a series of exercises, including passing around an imaginary ball. She also told them about some of her interactions in the hospital. Cheryl and her other clowns have been remembered by children for years; have been loved and made an important component of a life spent in a hospital. 

The Innovators finished off the day working on their Challenge again. More news on that front soon!

Emerson Monks

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Scientific Exploration

The Innovators performing a protein measurement experiment at the CELL Lab at Novartis

The Innovators performing a protein measurement experiment at the CELL Lab at Novartis

The Innovators kicked off this morning at the Novartis headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just around the corner from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Novartis is a large, leading pharmaceutical company. Their offices in Cambridge include expansive, ultramodern, top-of-the-line laboratories. 

 The Innovators split into two groups, switching activities after about an hour. One group headed into the Community Exploration & Learning Lab, where they dressed formally in lab coats, goggles, and gloves, and carried out a spectrophotometry experiment with equipment like centrifuges, vortexes, and micropipettes. Spectrophotometry is a technique to measure light absorbance. The Innovators experimented with proteins, observing different color indicators and reactions with light exposure to create a standard curve according to Beer’s Law. 

The other group gathered with a selection of professionals who work at Novartis. They had a wide range of careers: one worked in communications, another in robotic lab equipment, and another in biological development. The Innovators were able to gain a better understanding and conceptual knowledge of a career at a STEAM company. 

After lunch, the Innovators headed back to Suffolk. After some free time in Beacon Hill, one of Boston’s most cosmopolitan areas, they came back to the classroom for an introduction on game design led by Scot Osterweil and Shannon Meneses. 

Scot is the Creative Director of the Education and Game Lab in the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. He has not only designed games for commercial purposes, but has also turned his attention to potential academic benefits as well. 

Today, he taught the Innovators about the concept of productive engagement—the intersection between work and play, learning and fun. While fun does not necessarily mean fun or giggles, and a game should have some degree of challenge, it should not be too difficult. The key to creating a successful game is making a game that, while challenging, stimulates people without frustrating them.

The Innovators together with Scot at the end of the Game Design session

The Innovators together with Scot at the end of the Game Design session

The innovators practicing Ultimate Frisbee at Boston Common

The innovators practicing Ultimate Frisbee at Boston Common

Then, they applied their theories as they tried out one of Scot’s games, MIT’s the Lure for the Labyrinth. They also tried out estimating, attempting to apply math to seeming games in order to enhance their skills in a meaningful way.

He also explained the concept of imaginative projection, or the power of games to transport someone into another universe and another reality. That power can be implemented to inspire in children the genuine belief that they can make a difference; that they can be a scientist, politician; success story. Games are about identity.

The Innovators finished the session by creating a remake of a popular game and then pitching it to one another, working on the principles that Scot had taught them as well as enhancing their communication skills. Their games included a remake of Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Mario Kart, Just Dance, and more.

The Innovators finished off their day with a game of frisbee, partnering with the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance in the Boston Public Garden. It’s not only important to exercise the mind during the day—it’s important to exercise the body, too!

Collaborative Teamwork

The Innovators kicked this morning off at Suffolk. After breakfast, they had a lecture on LinkedIn, a social media platform dedicated to professional networking. Oftentimes—and especially in today’s day and age—open job positions are given to company connections rather than candidates found through a blind application. Contemporary success is largely dependent on making new contacts and maintaining positive working relationships with old contacts.

LinkedIn is especially helpful when searching for a job. Not only can you stay connected with past contacts from school, college, and previous jobs, but you can also see where they are currently working, and what their job title is. You can search for jobs based on how many contacts you have at given companies, and, in turn, companies can discover you, view a virtual resume, and determine whether or not you would be a good fit at a given job posting.

Then, the Innovators traveled to MIT. They were given time to explore the unique, diverse campus. Popular things to do and see at MIT include the MIT Museum, home to many scientific and architectural exhibitions; the famous Alchemist statue, carved from mathematical numerals and symbols by Jaume Plensa; the Hart Nautical Gallery, which pays homage to the rich history of ocean engineering at MIT and the Great Dome (picture here), one of the most iconic buildings in the campus.

The Innovators on the beautiful MIT campus

The Innovators on the beautiful MIT campus

After a lunch break—during which many Innovators chose to picnic on the grassy lawns at MIT—they traveled to the headquarters of Scrum, Inc., a company devoted to a framework of productive teamwork and product creation. Scrum was co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in an effort to create a more efficient way to work with others and manage time in a professional project. 

The Innovators engaged in role-playing, getting into teams and selecting an honorary Product Owner and Scrum Master. Then, they organized their issues, first selecting a series of learning objectives and then outlining the aspects of a good team. Scrum is organized as a series of planning, retrospective, review, and refinement. The Innovators practiced the Scrum process with paper airplanes, competing with one another to see who could make the most paper airplanes and who could improve their process the most.

Scrum advises teams to organize objectives into three categories: to do, doing, and done

Scrum advises teams to organize objectives into three categories: to do, doing, and done

The qualities of a good team

The qualities of a good team

The Scrum leaders then went on to explain in more detail the fundamental pillars, values, and themes behind the company and framework. Scrum is built on transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The company values courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness. There is a constant emphasis on prioritization and doing one thing at a time.

Scrum then explained the theory behind incentives and motivations. As it turns out, once the job goes past rudimentary processes, autonomous people end up accomplishing far more than those given tangible rewards for their work. Successful companies all have something in common: a coherent purpose.

After dinner, the Innovators finished up the day with a Challenge session. They met with their mentors and received comprehensive feedback on their projects. Todays goal: Explain the project their are facing in 90s. Keep reading for more updates on their work!

Emerson Monks

The Importance of Communication

Marco tells the Innovators about the diverse, challenging projects occurring at MIT

Marco tells the Innovators about the diverse, challenging projects occurring at MIT

This morning, the Innovators hopped on the T—the Boston subway system—and traveled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is one of the most prestigious, innovative universities in the world. Its faculty members and students are responsible for some of the most groundbreaking, world-changing inventions of all time, including the GPS, the World Wide Web (or Internet), spreadsheets, the first computer game, the first fax machine, the doppler radio, credit card holograms, and voice recognition technology, among others.

Marco Muñoz, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at MIT, led the Innovators on a tour and introduced them to the university’s core values. MIT is a research institution—there, ideas are not simply ideas, but rather procedures to be implemented. The university’s mission, first and foremost, is to impact the world in a meaningful, productive, positive way. 

Students and faculty at MIT dedicate themselves to solving problems in order to better the planet. Sample projects include isolating and connecting genes to combat obesity, creating a microscopic device to inject medicine into the pancreas to fight cancer, and attempting to better understand illnesses like leukemia and Alzheimer’s Disease given patterns in people with Down Syndrome.

Then, the Innovators split up into groups and participated in a workshop lead by Bob Dolan, the Assistant Director for Postdoctoral Scholars at MIT. Bob instructed the Innovators on how to deliver a successful elevator pitch, or a short, succinct, professional introduction. Frequently, in interviews, the first prompt the recruiter will give is, “Tell me about yourself.” 

The Innovators pose with Bob Dolan after their elevator pitch workshop

The Innovators pose with Bob Dolan after their elevator pitch workshop

A good elevator pitch provides an excellent first impression, which is the deciding, pivotal moment in many interviews. Eleven traits are decided about a person within the first seven seconds of meeting them: their education level, economic level, credibility and believability, trustworthiness, level of sophistication, sexual identification, level of success, political background, religious background, ethnic background, and social and professional desirability.

The Innovators learned how to clearly and coherently brand themselves, or identify themselves. They practiced identifying their goals, describing their professions and strengths, giving credit and complimenting their mentors and team members, and engaging listeners. 

After the workshop, the Innovators came back to Suffolk University for lunch, and then engaged in an interactive, stimulating Values workshop by Javier Prieto, the Chief Operations Officer at the Dalai Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. Javier led the Innovators in a discussion on the ethical and human dimensions of life and success.

With Javier, the Innovators named and studied successful leaders, outlining values and virtues crucial to their popularity and fruition. Some of these values and virtues include strategy, clarity, tenacity, empathy, curiosity, creativity, and loyalty. Then, the Innovators listed their seven primary core values, examining not only others, but also themselves.

Javier Prieta practices communication skills with Santiago, exemplifying both good and bad habits for the Innovators

Javier Prieta practices communication skills with Santiago, exemplifying both good and bad habits for the Innovators

Some of the most important values and virtues of a good leader, as outlined by Javier

Some of the most important values and virtues of a good leader, as outlined by Javier

The session also dove into the importance of active listening, and the lack of empathy involved in digital communication. Conversation and communication is paramount in not only making connections, but also enhancing human relationships. Javier taught the Innovators about the nuances of both verbal and nonverbal communication, and how they relate to becoming an empathetic leader. 

The Innovators practiced communicating with one another, examining their skills in an attempt to better their self-awareness. They compared the values they perceive themselves to possess with those that the world around them sees—a lesson in the gap between the understanding of oneself and the understanding of others.

In the evening, the Innovators participated in a unique STEAM activity—yesterday, supervisors silently demonstrated experiments, and different groups wrote instructions for the experiments. Today, the groups switched and attempted to perform the experiments based on one another’s instructions. The activity demonstrated how difficult it is to write scientific instructions, while also identifying holes in the Innovators’ scientific background knowledge.

Finally, after dinner, the Innovators engaged in a mindfulness session with Ashley Norwood, a yoga and mindfulness instructor. Ashley taught them how to focus on experiences in the present moment, and how helpful meditation, yoga, and other techniques can be to enhancing one’s awareness of the world around them and themselves. 

Emerson Monks











Enhancing Leadership

After a relaxing weekend, the Innovators spent their Monday diving headfirst into the innovative world of entrepreneurship. 

The first half of their day was dedicated to a leadership workshop. Engagement Managers from a top consulting firm led the Innovators in a seminar on enhancing professional cooperation skills. 

The Innovators pose with the excellent instructors from the consulting company

The Innovators pose with the excellent instructors from the consulting company

The Innovators have been placed into groups of 3 for this year’s Challenge, which is to devise solutions for long-term complications caused by childhood brain tumors in cancer survivors. Working together in groups can be challenging. Everyone has a different style of working: some people like to complete things last-minute, while others prefer to do things ahead of time; some people act on intuition, while others make decisions purely on data.

The leadership workshop aimed not only to improve collaboration tools, but also to illuminate a deeper sense of self-awareness. First, the Engagement Managers gave a presentation on the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, or a series of sixteen personalities. With the help of interactive questions and hypothetical situations, the Innovators classified themselves as either extroverted or introverted, sensitive or intuitive, thinking or feeling; judging or perceiving. 

Then, once the Innovators learned more about themselves, they began to apply this newfound knowledge to professional scenarios. They assembled into their Challenge groups and worked on creative methods to think of solutions to a problem. First, they brainstormed ideas, implementing new tools such as idea trees. Next, they prioritized those ideas, selecting the most important and placing those on the top of their to-do lists. After that, in groups, they processed these ideas, planning to put them into action.

Finally, the Innovators practiced navigating tough situations. Conflict frequently arises in professional groups. To combat this potential scenario in the future, the Innovators enhanced their conceptual understanding of empathy in order to better their problem-resolution skills.

Then, after lunch, Eleven, a design company, gave a workshop on designing a product or concept and presenting it to a potential client. Eleven focused on the importance of experience design, or the attraction of the experience of a product in addition to the product itself. For example, if you go to the Apple Store, you don’t only buy a product, or get a product fixed; you also engage in the experience. You test out the newest models of iPhones and Mac computers and play with new, ultramodern applications.

The Innovators all partnered up and devised a gift-giving scenario, concentrating on the experience of the gift rather than the gift itself. They advanced through steps: first, they sketched an idea. Then, they interviewed one another, asking about one another’s last gift-giving experiences, digging deeper when instructed. After gaining some sort of vague idea, they synthesized their findings, taking a point of view on the partner’s needs. 

Some of the feedback given after the interactive, engaging system with ELEVEN

Some of the feedback given after the interactive, engaging system with ELEVEN

Once they conceptualized the problem, they focused on the solution, sketching radical ways to solve the problem and then reflecting and generating new solutions. Finally, the Innovators created props out of posters, pipe cleaners, puff balls, and other craft supplies to act out their solution to the problem.

In the evening, the Innovators had their first STEAM session with Núria Pairó, learning about the fundamentals of STEAM theories with hands-on activities. The Innovators split into two groups and each observed an experiment silently. Then, they devised a procedure for the experiment using the materials and their best educated guesses. Tomorrow, the Innovators will switch groups and attempt to perform the experiment using the other group’s procedure!

Finally, after dinner, the Innovators collaborated on the Challenge in their groups. Keep tuned for more developments on their projects!

Emerson Monks

Weekend Adventures

Weekends are a time for relaxation and exploration. 

On Saturday, the Innovators had some free time to themselves. Many chose to explore the different neighborhoods of Boston, an epicenter of both cultural and scientific innovation.

Angela, Lizbeth, and a few others went to visit the Harvard Art Museums, and spent three hours in the famous Fogg Museum, home to works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, and others. Afterwards, they explored Cambridge, a bustling college town with plenty of shopping and restaurants. A few others explored the Prudential Area, also widely-known for its shopping and not too far from the Berklee Conservatory of Music, a famous music school. Still others walked around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the premier scientific institutions of learning.

The Innovators pose in front of the kayaks, ready for an exciting hour on the river!

The Innovators pose in front of the kayaks, ready for an exciting hour on the river!

Look at those views!

Look at those views!

On Sunday, some of the Innovators chose to partake in scheduled activities with the camp. Two groups went kayaking on the Charles River, partnering up in double boats. The location and positioning allowed the Innovators to catch breathtaking views not only of the city of Boston, but also of the city of Cambridge, and a group of sailboats out to enjoy the sunny day. The proximity to the water also offered a cool breeze—a nice respite from the summer heat!

The Innovators gather around the leader of the Freedom Trail tour, dressed as Phyllis Wheatley, a prominent African-American poet

The Innovators gather around the leader of the Freedom Trail tour, dressed as Phyllis Wheatley, a prominent African-American poet

Then, in the evening, after a lunch break, some Innovators partook in the Freedom Trail, a historical tour in downtown Boston. The tour guide, dressed as Phyllis Wheatley, a famous African-American poet and former slave, gave expert stories on not only famous spots in the area, but also on famous historical figures who once lived in Boston. The Innovators visited places such as the site of the Boston Massacre, the Old City Hall, and the place where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and other founding fathers are buried. 

At dinnertime, the Innovators went out for dinner at a typical burger joint and walked around the area just in time to catch the sunset. Boston isn’t just a city for learning and education—it’s a city for adventures, too.

Emerson Monks

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Breaking the Ice

This year’s Innovators together with Richi and his family

This year’s Innovators together with Richi and his family

Today marks the first official day of camp—a day packed with introductions, icebreakers, exploration, and creative challenges big and small.

This year, there are 26 Innovators, 15 more than last year. They come from four countries—Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile—and their ages range from 15 to 19.

The Innovators live in dormitories at Suffolk University, a research university centrally-located in downtown Boston. The students are a five-minute walk from Government Center and Park St (and its conveniently-placed T stop), a ten-minute walk from the famous Boston Common and Public Garden, and another thirteen-minute walk from the Paul Revere House, among other attractions and places of interest.

Ricardo explains the mission and concept behind the Richi Childhood Cancer Foundation

Ricardo explains the mission and concept behind the Richi Childhood Cancer Foundation

They began their day with a series of introductions. First, Ricardo Garcia—father of Richi, the survivor behind the Richi Childhood Cancer Foundation—speaks for himself and the foundation. “I am not the President,” Ricardo says. “That’s Richi.”

Ricardo emphasizes above all the importance of strategy. “Plan ahead,” he advises. “Try to make a strategy for everything in your life.” 

When Richi was diagnosed with brain cancer, chances of his survival were minimal. But Ricardo and his wife, having heard of an expensive procedure in Boston, fundraised the money that enabled Richi’s survival—about half a million dollars.

A company paid them $200 per ton of plastic bottle caps—with the help of their community, they filled 100 tons. Richi began to paint as a part of art therapy, and, at his recommendation, they sold his canvases, at first on the street, and later online.

Their experience led them to create the foundation. “Every kid deserves what Richi had,” Ricardo explains. “The opportunity to survive.” The foundation, created with a business model, sustains itself not only through charitable donations, but also through initiatives like the Richi Innovation Camp. Next, the introduction of Berta Marti, PhD, one of the camp organizers. A biomedical researcher, Berta has a bachelor’s of science in physics and a PhD in biomedicine from the University of Barcelona. She first became fascinated by the concept of applied physics to medicine when she worked on nuclear medicine imaging with epilepsy patients, and since then has worked in some capacity in the medical field. In 2014, she moved to Boston for a postdoctoral program at MIT and, following that, stayed for a second postdoctoral program at Harvard Medical School. 

She didn’t just introduce herself—she also introduced Boston. Favorite view: the MIT sailing pavilion. Favorite part of the city’s unique energy and composition: how she not only learns about international people in an international city, but also, through the global exchange in Boston, learns things about herself. 

After introductions and lunch, the Innovators walk to the famous Boston Public Garden for fresh air and a series of icebreakers. The students begin by ripping off a piece of toilet paper from a roll passed around a circle. For each square, they name a fun fact about themselves. Oriol, for example, has broken his arms, fingers, and various other extremities throughout his life. Miguel can play the piano. Sociable Ingrid loves to make friends. 

Next, all Innovators give up a single shoe, which is distributed to another person around the circle. They must find that person and find out their name and one interesting fact about them to share with the rest of the circle. Andreas likes to travel. Alex loves the song “Elbow Pain.”

Berta explains the rules of the icebreakers in the Public Garden

Berta explains the rules of the icebreakers in the Public Garden

Then the Innovators get together in groups of three. They are instructed to run through the park and complete miniature challenges—they must, among other things, find someone visiting Boston, someone who was born in Massachusetts, someone married, and someone who has been to Spain and Mexico. They must take photographs with ducks, under a bridge, and with a monument. 

After icebreakers, the students head back to the classroom. Rachel So, PhD, a neuropsychology fellow at the Center for Neurology, introduces the topic for this year’s Challenge—finding a solution for those suffering from the side effects of childhood brain tumors.

Rachel So, PhD, introducing the clinical need of the 2019 Challenge

Rachel So, PhD, introducing the clinical need of the 2019 Challenge

Tumors occur as a result of a growth of abnormal cells in the central nervous system. Little about brain tumors is actively understood in the nebulous, ever-changing field of cancer research—the majority of tumors are spontaneous, not hereditary, and children and adolescents are not miniature adults. The way their brains work is fundamentally different, and so are the consequences of tumors.

Brain tumor itself is a misnomer; the tumors themselves are very nearly too heterogenous to be lumped in with a homogenous name. The exact symptoms and effects of a tumor, Rachel explains, depend largely on its cell type and class, and even within those categories, impairments differ based on location. “We think of a tumor’s grade on a continuum, not a black-and-white dichotomy,” Rachel says. 

The effects of brain tumors can be long-lasting. Outcomes include the possibility for a lower educational achievement, more limited employment, lower income, a lower likelihood of autonomy, and a poorer health-related quality of life. Neurocognitively, things like IQ, working memory, attention, and processing speed may be slower or lower than progress recorded in non-affected adolescents and adults.

The problem is very real, and so is the challenge and its results. The Richi Foundation rests upon a philosophy of helping others whenever possible. It’s not about win-win, and it’s not about quid-pro-quo. It’s about doing what you can to impact the world in a positive way. In this case, that means the Innovators are doing what they can to lessen the impacts of brain tumors in survivors.

Emerson Monks

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