Indian Hill grad helps 8th grade STEM students understand how technology and business intersect

Indian Hill grad helps 8th grade STEM students understand how technology and business intersect
Posted on 02/17/2017
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Michael Markesbery with 8th grade STEM studentsWhen IHMS Middle School teachers Mark Miller and Michael Duncan taught student Michael Markesbery years ago, they saw a spark in him and knew he’d go far. But little did they expect that, just a handful of years later, he would return to present to their STEM students on science, engineering and entrepreneurship.

This came about when these two intrepid teachers adopted a different philosophy for their 8th grade STEM students that moves them into more of a “career exploration” approach as they examine how STEM concepts apply in the real world. “In sixth and seventh grades, it’s more of an engineering design focus,” Mr. Duncan describes. “We wanted to add in a business model focus, to start students thinking about how it all fits together.”

They had been looking for the right speaker to demonstrate that STEM is not just about process, but about the “whole ball of wax,” says Mr. Miller, and Michael Markesbery was “it.”

As a sophomore at Miami University, Michael ended up winning a scholarship through NASA and attending a program where he was introduced to an aerogel with superior insulating qualities. However, the gel had limitations in how it behaved, which restricted its uses.

Not to be deterred, Michael had an idea for using this gel to create superior winter gear. He worked for two years to find the science that would allow the gel to be suitable for this application. “At times, he thought it wouldn’t work, but he just stuck with it. He stressed that it’s not just ‘doing it,’ but it’s understanding that you are going to fail and you need to keep going – not give up,” explains Mr. Duncan. And now, just two years out of Miami, the Lukla aerogel jacket is available through OROS Apparel, the company Michael and his friends started to commercialize the aerogel technology they developed.

In his presentation, Michael explained that while the engineering design process starts with a need – identifying the problem, researching, solving the problem – there is a lot more that comes after that. He addressed the entrepreneurial aspects of the legal system, raising capital, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, globalization, jumping in with the “big boys” (in his case, companies including Patagonia and Under Armour), and more. Mr. Miller continues, “The determination, the time management, the challenges – he touched on all of that, and showed how STEM is so much more than just the design process.”

The timing for these students couldn’t have been more perfect: “As third year STEM students, they were really tuned in to the message,” says Mr. Duncan. “They had lots of questions, and Michael said he often didn’t get questions that good from venture capitalists!”