This past Wednesday, a virtual who’s who among the brightest and most engaged thinkers, policy makers, attorneys, researchers, developers, marketers and brand creators in the digital marketplace gathered at the Ronald Reagan building to witness the official launch of ConvergeUS. The project is the brainchild of a partnership between TechNet’s Rey Ramsey, formerly of the One Economy Corporation, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Both were on hand to formally introduce the new venture which is the nonprofit arm of TechNet, a bipartisan, political network made up of high-tech’s leading CEOs to work on policy impact the area.
According to Ramsey, ConvergeUS will engage select nonprofits on an ongoing basis to develop solutions for improving the education system, getting more children interested in STEM fields, and bridging the technology gaps between poorer communities and those with Internet access and resources.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski dropped by to deliver brief remarks and express his excitement about the venture. He got the most laughs when referencing Twitter, which he said has a “bias against people with long names.”
Following the Chairman’s speech, Andrew McLaughlin, the former White House deputy Chief Technology Officer and Head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google Inc., moderated a panel of experts starting off his job by acknowledging that the “policy nerds, lawyer nerds, tech nerds…” in the room and of the world get all the benefits of digital connectivity, but those benefits are not bestowed on all people. “The future is already here. It’s just not equally distributed yet,” McLaughlin said.
During a panel presentation, former Detroit Lions rookie Leland Melvin stood out with his awe-inspiring story of his past as a football player who turned a career ending injury into an opportunity to go back to school, earn a master’s degree in engineering and science, and eventually work for NASA as an astronaut. Melvin shared that, as a kid, he used to burn up stuff all over the house with the chemistry kit his mother got him, but that his dad loved football and got him into the sport early. He talked about a duality, “You don’t have to want to be a rapper or athlete to succeed. There are other ways to do that,” Leland said.
The panelists responded to questions submitted in-person and over the internet using the hashtag #converge.
Muhammed Chaundrey, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Foundation was also on hand to share his insights about working with children and encouraging their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In response to an online question about getting parents involved, Chaundrey remarked, “You don’t have to be an engineer to raise an engineer.” He pointed out the options in mobile applications that parents that do not have a home computer and broadband access have to encourage their children’s interest in science.”
Biz Stone, a former Google executive, spoke about his need to innovate in high school when he founded a lacrosse team on campus. His motivation? He had a desire to play sports, but did not know much about any of the sports the school offered. By founding the team, Stone explained, he was able to be one of its stars. “That is an example of creating an opportunity and not waiting for one to become available,” Stone shared. Stone used the lacrosse example to underscore the ways that technology can be used to innovate and create new opportunities.
Following the panel, the crowd took part in a post talk reception.