When IdeaFestival began in 2000 this organic, free-thinking event stressed that it was for “anyone, irrespective of any demographic, to collaborate and be inspired to think differently.” Corporations sent employees. Universities sent professors. Curious adults bought tickets. College students came in droves.

How do children fare within this intellectual demographic stew?

Apparently, quite well. Special events notwithstanding, more than 500 students attended the 2015 IdeaFestival at the Kentucky Center on September 29-October 2, 2015.

IdeaFest Welcomes Students

“We ensure at least 25 percent of IdeaFestival’s main stage audience is filled with high school and college students (150+ students per session) for audience diversity,” says Kris Kimel, IdeaFestival Founder.

Kimel continues that the festival measures itself by its inclusivity vs. exclusivity. “While IdeaFestival’s annual event draws its audience nationally and even internationally, we believe it is our responsibility to share global thought-leaders and innovative programming with as broad an audience as possible, embracing learners of all ages but also providing access and exposure to Kentucky’s students who will shape our future. The belief is that ideas are for everyone, not just for the elite.”

Each year, IdeaFestival begins with Thrivals, which targets high school and college-age students with a high-energy event, all-day event. This year’s theme focused on Humans and the Rise of Artificial Intelligence  http://www.ideafestival.com/thrivals-event.

At Thrivals, 600 students discussed if we should create machines that will augment ourselves–extend our ability to do things that we humans have been unable to do in the past? The opening event was hosted by recording artist Janelle Monae and Wonderland Arts Society. An array of speakers presented including Ken Jennings, all-time Jeopardy champion; James McLurkin, roboticist, inventor, researcher and teacher; Soraya Chemi; Director of WMC Speech Project; and Zeynep Tufekci, Assistant Professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science and Adjunct Professor in Department of Sociology.

IF also hosted small group gatherings. For example, after Ndaba Mandela’s main stage presentation, a small group students from Daviess County High school and Shelby County High School gathered to ask Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, and Co-Founder and Chairman of Africa Rising Foundation, questions.

Middle school students from across the region gathered at the Kentucky Science Center to participate in a four-hour embedded IF track that exposed them to the various ideas and perspectives that undergird the Festival.

According to Kimel, the event received record attendance this year with nearly 400 students from 11 schools as far away as Clinton County. “They left home before dawn to participate,” he says.

The morning session included short presentations by IdeaFestival main stage presenters including Jay Gallentine, Bill Bishop, Maci Peterson, Sage Galesi/Alessandra Puliti plus an innovation training session conducted by The Rise Group. After lunch, students went to Kentucky Science Center for more hands-on activities including robotics and coding.

Cutting Class Worth It

Even elementary school-age students found fun and learning at IF. For example, when Shane Shaps, saw that Sports Illustrator Senior Writer David Epstein was presenting, “The Sports Gene” she immediately thought about taking her nine-year-old son, Ryan.

As Shaps explains, “I have a sports nut for a son. He loves everything about sports – not just playing but watching, commentating and learning. He loves the tradition around College Gameday and the seventh inning stretch of a Yankees game. He knows I’m a sucker to take him to a sports event (mostly because of the food). When I heard about David Epstein of Sports Illustrated (among others), speaking at IF, I thought, ‘what a great, one-of-a-kind opportunity for him to see someone who has made a career out of sports, without being a professional athlete.’

Before pulling her third grader out of school for the day Shaps, founder and owner of 520 Brands, a social media engagement company, tweeted Mr. Epstein to make sure his presentation was kid-appropriate. It tweeted back that it was.

The experience, Shaps says, was worth missing school. “While I don’t take my children out of school often, these are the kinds of opportunities not to be missed,” she says. “When he gets older and grades matter and team practice matters and everything matters, then he probably can’t miss gym class and grammar. But for a once-in-a-while special occasion, I was glad I was able to do this for him – and with him.”

Ryan benefited from the experience, as well. “He thought it was cool to sit in the front row and be so close to Mr. Epstein, and then he got to meet him and have Mr. Epstein autograph our copy of his book,” Shaps says. “Mr. Epstein was a track runner in college, and my son’s favorite sport is cross country. Mr. Epstein asked what his favorite sport was and he told him. He we was very proud to have that connection.”

Shaps enjoyed spending time with her son, and Epstein’s talk. “I found it fascinating,” she says. “He gave some great anecdotes, and it’s always cool to hear from someone who is one degree away from someone you read about or hear about. With my limited knowledge of sports, and my son’s nine years of life and education, we walked away with some key takeaways such as the advice to play lots of sports, not specialize too young, and that challenges can be overcome.”

Capitalizing on JCPS’s fall break, Adam Kolers, a 5th grader at Hawthorne Elementary School, attended IF for the first time. He embraced “the different, interesting things to do.”

“Even though there weren’t activities designed only for kids, he liked being able to do activities with adults,” says Karen Christopher, Adam’s mom. “Adam especially liked the coding activities.”

Mason Friedman, another 5th grade at Hawthorne Elementary, shared Adam’s sentiment. His favorite part was using the 3D pens provided by Kentucky Innovation Network and working at the Coding Bar, which was provided by Kentucky Coders in support of their Hour of Code initiative with computers provided by Dataseam.

“I’ve always liked coding, and it’s really neat to try it and see what you can do,” says Friedman.

The 3D printer at the Coding Bar was provided by MakerMobile. http://www.velocityindiana.org/makermobile/

“I liked the 3D art pen because it’s futuristic, and I’ve never used one before. It’s impressive how it can make 3D figures. The 3D art was definitely the most fun thing,” says Friedman.

Would Friedman and Kolers attend future IdeaFestivals? “I definitely want to go back,” says Friedman. “Because I always like to see what new things are being created.”





A Cleveland native turned Louisville resident by way of Chicago, Melanie brings 20 years publishing experience to Louisville Distilled. After graduating from Indiana University Bloomington with degrees in English and Journalism, Melanie has worked as an editor on staffs at national magazines based in Chicago and Los Angeles. She moved to Louisville in 2004 where she launched a successful freelance editing and writing career. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Draft, Chef, The National Culinary Review, Pizza Today, Complete Woman, Louisville Magazine, Business First, Her Scene, Medical News and more. She lives in the East End with her husband, Sean, two children and dog. Passionate about the arts (and an adventurous foodie) Melanie loves eating her way through Louisville’s food scene and supporting the local arts and music scene.


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