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Just start. Don’t wait for college. Don’t wait to get your Ph.D. Don’t wait for your first real job. 

As a child, sometimes it starts while you are making potions in your backyard or looking up at the night sky.

Arjun, Dory, Ana Sofia, and Raymond are already research scientists. They are already makers, collaborators, and innovators. They – and the other student scientists here with them at the 37th Beijing Youth Student Creation Competition – are the creators of knowledge on which our collective future will be built.

The sun came out today in Beijing, and we could see the Great Wall of China as we crossed the bridge on the way to the exhibition hall where the public was invited to view the students’ projects. We were all excited. 

The exhibition hall was packed, and our students did a fine job answering questions, navigating the language barriers, supporting each other, and learning from the other delegations.

Girls from around the world are participating in the competition. 

This is Mandisa Xaba, a 12th grader at Sakhwele Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. She is working to power cars with carbon dioxide.

This is Suhailiza Binti Sarif from the Malaysian Invention and Design Society (MINDS). She is working on ways to filter food waste in restaurants and homes, protecting the water supply.

This is Wanzhuotte. She attends Beijing No. 8 Middle School. Anjun explains she is working to use asparagus to boost a tumor suppressing gene to fight cancer.

This is Anastasia Shadura from Ukraine. She is working to use insects to assess the ecological condition of forests.

In the afternoon, the student scientists went to work in a maker space. Our team learned the process for making aloe vera, and Dr. Nolan enjoyed trying it on.

The other teams enjoyed a wide variety of hands-on options to discover through play.

On the way back to the conference center, Arjun and Ana Sofia had a few minutes for Frisbee.

In the evening, it was time for the awards ceremony, which included a taste of many of the cultural arts of China. But first, the dignitaries were announced including our Dr. Mike Mullen and Dr. Fran Nolan. It was quite a show.

To our delight, Arjun took the stage to learn Kung Fu.

Then the awards began. Our students were all wiped out and fast asleep in their seats when Ana Sofia won a second place award including 3,000 Yuan. They handed her in cash as she exited the stage!

The lesson? Set some audacious goals for yourself, and then…just start.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.