Dean Kamen’s Plan For Getting Kids Into STEM

Dean Kamen started his career as a medical inventor on accident. When he was young, Kamen’s older brother, an MD Ph.D. candidate, was working in pediatric oncology.

“He’d come home on weekends, frustrated,” Kamen said on stage at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. “You have a two-pound baby you’re trying to deal with and you can’t deliver drugs in any meaningful quantity with precision.”

So Kamen, now president of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, started making small pumps in his parents’ basement and would deliver them in a brown paper bag to Yale, where his brother was working. It wasn’t lucrative  — “brothers don’t pay” — but with a few small tweaks, the pumps caught on for other reasons: Insulin delivery in adults.  

Since then, his inventions have included a portable dialysis machine, a vascular stent, as well as the Segway Personal Transporter and the Slingshot water purifier. But he traces the success back to an ability to experiment and innovate at a young age, something that doesn’t seem as common among children today.

“In a free culture, this country celebrates sports and entertainment, particularly in women and minorities,” Kamen says. “The NBA, NFL and Hollywood. How do you expect those kids to be great in math, science and inventing?” 

His proposal: We have to start celebrating when they’re young that doing math is fun and accessible and rewarding and “way more likely to lead to careers than bouncing a ball.”

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