The NSTMF and USPTO: Inspiring Innovation Together

Celebrating the growing partnership between the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Photo of The NSTMF and USPTO: Inspiring Innovation Together

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) became the agency that managed the National Medal of Technology and Innovation awards program in 2007 as part of the America COMPETES act. Not only did the legislation change the name of the National Medal of Technology by adding the term “Innovation,” it also laid the groundwork for a new public-private partnership between the USPTO and the NSTMF.

Since its founding, the NSTMF has been responsible for celebrating the work and lives of the Laureates of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation and National Medal of Science. NSTMF fulfilled these functions, primarily, by hosting the National Medals Celebration. A day-long set of events that included a Presidential ceremony in the East Room of the White House and a black-tie gala where family members, friends, and colleagues were invited to celebrate American ingenuity and scientific discovery. The gala program included the showing of NSTMF-produced, and USPTO-sponsored, videos about each Laureate, remarks from OSTP, USPTO, and NSF leadership, and most importantly a shared love and admiration for the greatest STEM minds this country has to offer.

NMTI Laureate Cato Laurencin entering the 2016 National Medals Gala

From the beginning, the USPTO and NSTMF shared the same vision that the Laureates could become role models and points of inspiration for the next generation of STEM minds. The two organizations agreed that they had a responsibility, together, to inspire, engage, and inform the next great innovator, inventor, discoverer, and leader. It was this shared responsibility that catalyzed the growth of the partnership.

Science and Innovation Unscripted

The partnership expanded when the USPTO committed to support the NSTMF’s Science and Innovation Unscripted series. This program was a series of conversations hosted at academic institutions across the country. The program was originally named “An Evening With” and the first event was hosted at Georgetown University featuring NMTI Laureate Vint Cerf in 2017. By 2019, the program had featured 25+ individuals representing a diverse and vibrant cohort of STEM experts, including NMTI and NMS Laureates, it had reached over 25,000 students, teachers, and members of academic leadership, and the program had partnered with 20+ academic institutions. The USPTO partnership was integral in an incredibly successful 2018 Unscripted event at Northwestern University featuring top nanotech minds and an exciting panel discussion in 2019 at Spelman College featuring leadership from NMTI Laureate Industrial Light and Magic. Without the USPTO’s support, the NSTMF would not have been able to bring exceptional STEM minds to undergraduate students and give undergraduate students unparalleled access to STEM thought-leaders.

Ryan Smith, Bridgette Powell and Jean Bolte sitting on a stage sharing their stories at Spelman College

ILM Leadership discussing their career and experiences at Spelman College as part of the USPTO sponsored NSTMF Science and Innovation Unscripted Series in 2019.

Paul Rosenthal – serving in multiple communication leadership roles with the USPTO was an important advocate in the expansion of USPTO’s support of the NSTMF.

“The USPTO has partnered with NSTMF for over a decade to provide proper recognition of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureates who have helped improve the well-being of Americans and everyone around the world. These formative years of the partnership enhanced the impact of the National Medals as a celebration of leading technologists and innovators in our society.”

–Paul Rosenthal, Director of Community Engagement, USPTO

Rosenthal and the NSTMF team shared a genuine interest in highlighting all incredible STEM innovators and pulling back the curtain on scientific and technological discovery.

Emboldened by the success of the Unscripted series, the NSTMF and USPTO continued to work together on how the Unscripted series could be expanded over time and how the initial impact the Unscripted panelists had on the students could be shared and grown.

Broadening the Vision

In 2020 the NSTMF was working to determine how they could be a positive change agent in service of their expanded mission – to build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable STEM community. The NSTMF envisioned a future where the diversity of the country was represented in all recipients of top STEM honors, including future NMS and NMTI Laureate classes. The key output of this new north star was the NSTMF’s inSTEM Mentorship program, piloted in 2020 at Howard University.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the program was received extremely well by a cohort of 15 STEM interested first-year students. The program is built around a four-year curriculum that blends proven methods of hierarchical mentorship models with holistic wellness support strategies, and an emphasis on centering student needs. The goal was to provide needed support and programming to undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in STEM. It was built to address the alarming attrition rate of STEM majors from underrepresented groups in service of building more diverse, inclusive, and equitable future in the STEM community.

In 2021, Linda Hosler, USPTO‘s National Outreach Partnerships Manager, was excited and intrigued by the early impact of the inSTEM program. She worked with the NSTMF to develop a plan to make an initial investment in helping fund the program at Howard University and the NSTMF worked to recruit members from the USPTO team to serve as mentors in the program.

“Supporting NSTMF as it evolved its mission to not only recognize the Laureates for their tremendous contributions to science and technology but also develop programs and events that champion diverse, inclusive, and equitable STEM communities nationwide has been quite rewarding. The USPTO continues to support NSTMF for our shared mission in creating a more equitable future for innovators everywhere.”

–Linda Hosler, National Outreach Partnerships Manager, USPTO

NaThanya Ferguson, a Manager in the USPTO’s Office of Innovation Outreach was featured in the NSTMF inSTEM Virtual video series, and Jorge Valdes, USPTO’s Program Advisor on STEM Education and Intellectual Property joined the mentor community as well. The support from the USPTO empowered the NSTMF to dream bigger and think about the long term plan for the inSTEM program. Motivated by this push from the USPTO and the NSTMF’s other funding partners, the NSTMF put together a set of goals for 2030:

By 2030 the NSTMF will have empowered close to 1000 individuals to grow as people and professionals within the STEM community. In that time, the inSTEM program will have been a key factor in changing the way the STEM community evaluates talent, builds inclusive spaces, and delivers on a more equitable future.

Jayde Stewart, USPTO’s National Outreach Partnership Specialist, was an important proponent of encouraging the NSTMF’s expanded mission to build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable STEM community.

“NSTMF is positioned to support a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible future in STEM education. The USPTO looks forward to the growth of NSTMF’s inSTEM program and other events that support underrepresented communities in STEM. Representation and participation from all Americans in STEM education, innovation, and entrepreneurship are critical for the future of our country as we compete globally through ingenuity and IP.”

–Jayde Stewart, National Outreach Partnership Specialist, USPTO

Having individuals like Stewart, Hosler, and Rosenthal collaborating on mutually beneficial STEM programming, as well as the credibility of the entire agency, breathes life and hope into the inSTEM program and the broader mission of the NSTMF. The partnership between these two groups has never been stronger and it will be exciting to watch as the two organizations work to diversify the STEM ecosystem, inspire invention and innovation, and build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable STEM community together.

Your contribution to the NSTMF not only serves to celebrate scientific advancement, ingenuity, and exploration, but also symbolizes your commitment to building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future in STEM.

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