There is much talk of the value of “engagement” in communications, particularly online, where marketers are finding they can influence their prime audiences – interactively, communally, in real time – in ways other media can’t. My son’s participation in the Cincinnati Regional Science Olympiad, a science project competition among Greater Cincinnati high schools, showed me a form of engagement – interactively, communally, in real time – which I hadn’t seen before. It was interesting to me because most, if not all, enthusiastic gatherings of high school students are centered on athletic competition. But this was science… the proverbial slide-rule and pocket-protector crowd.

On a warm, sunny Saturday in early March, 2009, from 7:00AM until 5:00PM, dozens or maybe hundred of teenagers gathered in teams at Raymond Walter College to present, demonstrate and explain the demanding science projects which they had completed (engaged in) together over months of work, learning and discovery. Corporate sponsorships, though key to the event, were discrete. No media topspin. No marketing agenda. The event was not online or networked around the world in 27 languages (yet). Yet engagement there was. At the awards ceremony culminating the day’s accomplishments, when the winners and runners-up for each category were announced, there was raucous cheering, hooting, hollering – respectful, brand-neutral engagement. Real team spirit – but no TV cameras in front of which to act ridiculous. Award winning participants raced to the stage to accept gold, bronze or silver medals and have their picture taken. You could see the happiness on the faces of these kids. They are one’s who may never make a touchdown, or score a goal, or toss in a 3. These kids, our future, offer us more than a glimpse of understanding in matters of science. They exemplify the spirit and the potential that will keep our nation and the world moving forward despite the many challenges we all face – collaborative engagement in meaningful pursuits and achievements that will benefit the world in truly valuable ways.

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