Art Fry inspires NLA students to be creative and see things differently.

It’s the start of a new school year filled with curiosity, exploration, discovery, creativity and problem solving. The culture of innovation at New Life Academy is inspiring many students to think differently about the world around them. To see every day problems and search for solutions.

Not too entirely different from Art Fry back in 1974 who was looking to solve his frustration of missing bookmarks in his hymnal on Sunday mornings. If you’re not familiar with the story of how the Post-it® note came to be, it started one Wednesday back in the 1974. Well, technically a few years before in 1968 when 3M scientist Silver Spencer was tasked with developing a stronger, tougher adhesive. His product ended up being anything but bigger, tougher or stronger. While the adhesive failed in those characteristics, it was unique in that it retained its stickiness with removability characteristics. But what does a person do with that? No one had a clue in 1968.

Fast forward to 1974 when every Wednesday, Art Fry would attend choir practice at his church. He would mark the pages in his hymnal with pieces of paper, but by the time Sunday service rolled around, they had fallen out and he was always fumbling to find right page for the hymn. That’s when the idea hit him – his hallelujah moment so to speak (or sing). “What I need is a bookmark that would stick to the paper without falling off but not damage the sheets” he said.

“Broad skills and broad education are very important to creating new things. If you really want to learn, you need to try and do it yourself.” – Art Fry

The rest is history. He saw a problem and he set out to solve it. For years, Silver Spencer, the inventor of the less than strong adhesive, could not think of an application for his product. That is until Art approached him with an idea. Now you can find Post-it® notes in every business around the globe and many homes as well. And we can hardly imagine working without them (I challenge you to look around any office and see how many steps you are from a Post-it® note).

On Thursday, September 6, 2018, Art Fry visited New Life Academy to speak to 6-12th grade students about Innovation and the importance of being able to generate new ideas or see new applications for something that already exists. Persistence, creativity, collaboration and problem-solving were all central to the 12-year process of perfecting the ‘failed’ adhesive and moving it forward to the well-known and beloved Post-it® note. “If you know about all the problems you may run into at the beginning of an idea, you may never pursue it. And it takes a whole lot of new ideas to take something from first concept to marketable product” Fry said. And time. Since no one could figure out what to do with the adhesive, it wasn’t on the top of 3M’s priority list to figure out what to do with it. But Art Fry could work on his idea of self-stick notes because of 3M’s culture of 15% time, where employees can spend 15% of their paid time pursuing research they are interested in. Without that culture of innovation, the Post-it® note may never have come to be.

This is exactly what New Life Academy intends with the 15% Innovation Portfolio (15% IP) program, modeled after 3M’s philosophy. We give students time (15% of their science course) to pursue something they are interested in within science, technology, engineering, arts, and psychology. Students are inspired by various clubs and challenged to look at the world around them to see problems to solve or new ideas for existing things or new ways of doing things. When asked how Fry comes up with ideas he explained that he will either run into a problem and think of how he could solve that problem or he will learn about something and wonder if it can do something differently (as in the case of the failed adhesive from 1968).

This is what we want our students to learn. How to identify problems and create solutions. Is it because we are hoping for the next big invention to come out of New Life Academy? Not exactly, although we aren’t opposed to it and certainly think it’s possible (have you met our students?). Our priority is for our students to learn important skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, complex reasoning, collaboration, research, presentation and communication.

Why is this so important?

In 2011, Authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa gave a glimpse of the state of higher education in the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Through their research, they found that 45% of undergraduate students hadn’t improved in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college and 36% saw no improvement in 4 years.

What do employers want?

According to research by Arum and Roksa,

  • 93% want demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than undergraduate major.
  • 75% want more emphasis on critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • 95% give hiring preference to college graduates with skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace.
  • 92% agree that “innovation is essential” to their organization’s continued success.

What do hiring managers of college graduates indicate is missing?

A 2017 Payscale survey of 63,924 hiring managers of recent college graduates said that they aren’t as ready for the workforce as they think they are. What did they say are the skills missing? Curiosity, Grit, Critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication.

With statistics like this, we feel that a New Life Academy graduate should be well equipped with these skills before they leave our halls. Every classroom on our campus is an incubator for capturing knowledge, working to develop an understanding of the subject matter, and applying it to real world situations. Outside the classroom, through the 15% IP program, we inspire our students to take that knowledge, dream big, have self-confidence and find ways to change the world. Always minded toward paving the way for a brighter future for our students, NLA’s 15% Innovation Portfolio will prepare them for higher levels of academia and the competitive business environment they will need to compete in.

Final advice from Art Fry to the students at New Life Academy? “Broad skills and broad education are very important to creating new things. You have to work hard to prepare yourself. And if you really want to learn, you need to try and do it yourself. If you can’t figure it out, ask an expert.”

Thanks to Art Fry for spending time speaking with our students and inspiring them to see the world around them differently.

Post-it® Note is a registered trademark of 3M.