Destination Imagination, NASA and the Real World

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Destination Imagination and the Real World: My Parallel Experiences as a Team Manager and NASA Project Manager

September 15, 2015

Written by Scott Dalgleish

I would never have guessed that these two facts would lead me on an exceptionally fascinating and rewarding journey this year.

  • It costs $40,000 to send a 2-liter bottle of water to the Space Station.
  • Colorado Destination Imagination faced a challenge in the Boulder Valley School District which could have ended the district support of the Destination Imagination program.

At the start of the last school year, the Boulder Valley School District sent a memo to Boulder Destination Imagination (DI) Team Managers that said, ‘no DI activities of any sort may take place unless a district employee is directly supervising the activity.’ Since I managed a Technical Challenge team and our creations took form in my garage on the weekends, I saw this as a real problem for Boulder District sponsorship of DI. This ruling also had the potential to cascade to other districts, so I was highly motivated to address this new policy.

I scheduled a meeting with the district officials to discuss the new policy and to look for solutions that met everyone’s needs. To prepare for the meeting, I kept asking myself, “How can I convince the district that DI provides extremely valuable skills that the schools don’t have time to teach?”

When I met with the District decision makers, I first made the case that the true engine of our economy is innovation—and that Boulder/Denver region was recognized worldwide as an innovation center. I backed this up with some great quotes from an Inc. Magazine article that talked about Boulder as an innovation hub (see How Boulder Became America’s Startup Capital). I explained that as a volunteer in the classroom, I could see that teachers don’t have the time to teach the 21st century skills that DI teaches. However, these skills are the core to our economy.  I asked, “Does the Boulder School District want to be part of making Boulder an innovation hub, or do they want to disconnect from that?”

I decided to emphasize how the DI program teaches highly valuable, real-world skills. I asked the District representatives, “How many of you were taught project management in elementary school – none, right?  How often do you use project management skills in your job – every day, right?  DI develops many practical real-world skills, like project management, at an early age.”

To illustrate how effective DI is at building real-world innovation skills, I set a printout of the DI Creature Feature Technical Challenge on the table and did a quick review of all the Central Challenge requirements.

I then pulled a Request for Quote (RFQ) from NASA that I was working on at my job and did a quick review of the NASA RFQ. Here is what the RFQ said:

  1. Are wireless
  2. Do not have a battery
  3. Withstand high temperature and caustic chemicals
  4. Spin at 200 RPM
  5. Operate in a vacuum environment
  6. Are small and low-profile so they do not disturb the liquid flow.
  7. Are inside several layers of titanium and other metal enclosures
  8. Provide 4 sensor readings from inside the spinning drum and 4 from the outside of the spinning drum.
  9. The Urine Processing Unit may not have additional holes drilled in it to accommodate the sensors.

And similar to a Destination Imagination Challenge, it required companies to explain their solution (Team Challenge Elements and Tournament Data Forms), abide by time and budget restrictions, ask questions (similar to DI-ers asking for Clarifications), and give a presentation on the solution:

  • Companies applying to solve this problem must explain any special technology they have that they feel may solve this problem.
  • You have 6 months to solve the problem and you must provide a fixed-price budget to complete the solution.
  • You may ask questions before you bid this project.
  • You must present your proposed solution to be considered for this project – then will be given a short window of time to install and demonstrate your final solution at the Marshall Space Flight Center. 

I said to the District team, “These technical challenges look pretty similar, don’t they?”  I then explained that I truly understood (from volunteering in the classroom) that teachers can only cover a finite amount of material. DI teaches additional important skills—skills that send people to the moon, cure cancer, and fuel strong economies, like Boulder’s.

Our meetings with the District were successful. I was impressed by our creative and open-minded district officials. The solution was to make DI Team Managers “extra duty” district employees for $100 per year (which I donate back to my team). I had to get fingerprinted and watch some training videos, but now I’m an extra duty district employee and I comply with the new district policy. Boulder District DI was saved!

But that’s just the start to this story and this amazing journey. See Part 2 and Part 3 of this story to see how the NASA and Destination Imagination projects paralleled each other for the rest of the year.

Article written by Scott Dalgleish, DI Colorado Team Manager and Phase IV Engineering CEO & Project Manager

                  Scott Dalgleish (back) and his 2015 Destination Imagination team.


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