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On February 9 and 10, the Hillman Entrepreneurs from both Montgomery College and Prince George’s Community College trekked down to Washington, DC, to tour the permanent West Wing exhibit at the National Museum of American History on American Innovation, Creativity, and Enterprise, focusing on two areas:  American Enterprise and Places of Invention.

After an overview of the purpose and development of the exhibit by Joyce Bedi, Senior Historian for the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Bedi and two other top-notch volunteer docents spread out through the Places of Invention area to share in-depth insights into their respective areas of expertise–and students followed along to learn about innovations in clean energy coming out of Fort Collins, CO; the development of Technicolor in Hollywood, CA; the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, NY;  the rise of the personal computer in Silicon Valley, CA; and an area known as “Medical Alley” in Minnesota where medical technology developments have flourished.

The students were then invited to explore on their own, looking for that one innovation that they were most interested or curious about and began their own in-depth look into how that device changed the landscape of American enterprise. Students from both schools were able to see in a concrete way how both the entrepreneurial mindset, mixing both business and innovation smarts, led the way toward great advances in technology, science, culture, and business–and how these leaders were able to do this through disruptive thinking and breaking the cliché’s of how things were done before. As Rose Ti Frere reported later, “The trip to the museum was amazing, fun, and rewarding. During the tour, I learned about many interesting and different inventions.”

The students shared their own insights and discoveries, in a discussion led by Joyce Bedi and Program Directors Rebecca Razavi and Ruth Lewis.  Several students were taken by the computer mouse, for example, and one, Aixa Henderson, shared that she had no idea that the computer mouse had such a fascinating impact on the way Americans work. Likewise, two students stopped at the original game of Monopoly. One,  Michelle Salah was surprised to learn that this game was the product of “a passion for social and economic justice.” Other items that caught the students’ attention included the Colt pistol,  the Technicolor camera, a “clean” Prieto battery, the 1948 Tucker automobile, and Edison’s phonograph. Clearly there was something here for everyone!

Trips like this one provide the Hillman students with the opportunity to learn in new ways about the areas and industries they are interested in entering as well as the types of people and the determination, creativity, and strategic thinking that make them successful. They also learn that this type of learning can be exciting and available to them for the price of a Metro pass! It is the hope of the program that many will return to this and other exhibits and museums as part of their continued growth and lifelong learning.

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