I was truly inspired when I saw this TED talk about Jack Andraka, a 15 year old freshman in high school. He developed a superior detection tool for cancer through creative thinking, persistence and as he states “teenage optimism.”
While a family friend passed away from pancreatic cancer, Jack became interested in the early detection of this devastating disease. The current detection technique costs $800 and only catches 30% of cancers. Jack’s method is highly accurate and costs around $.03 Once he became aware of the need for research on early detection, he contacted over 200 science professors with his proposed plan and was rejected by 199 until he pursued the one “maybe” that he received. He conducted his research at John Hopkins University. As a career coach, working with young people, I was touched by Jack’s response to the death of his family friend. He says that he wanted to learn as much as possible in response to his loss, was driven to improve the situation. He was curious, innately optimistic, relied on Google as his “go-to” information source. Many of the young people that I work with have great curiosity and a desire to help the world. Jack found the protein that he needed to detect after 4,000 tries, then he methodically worked on creating his inexpensive paper sensor, showing persistence and goal-directedness. His sensor detects pancreatic cancer with 100% accuracy. He credits the knowledge that he gained from the internet. He states that there are “millions more like me out there. and with the internet to power them, imagine what they can do…and what you could do.” I couldn’t have said it better. We have untold power if we use curiosity, persistence, attack problems by getting curious and learning. I think that young people are adopting this attitude, and we as their mentors, should work as hard as we can to foster it.