A while back, I mentioned the Thiel Fellowship, a unique program by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to spur young innovators to drop out of school to try to launch a business based on their ideas. The first class of fellows has been named.
In return for their gamble, Thiel, whose billions also come from investing in Facebook, provides the 24 fellows with a $100,000 grant and mentoring assistance. Several hundred people applied for the grants, which have been awarded to, among others, an 18-year-old hoping to extract minerals from asteroids and comets and a 19-year-old who wants to apply unschooling tenets to higher education.
These young fellows — recipients must be under the age of 20 — are in a class by themselves.
Consider the bio of 17-year-old Laura Deming: “She wants to extend the human lifespan for a few more centuries—at the very least. She started working in a biogerontology lab when she was 12, matriculated at MIT when she was 14, and now at 17 plans on disrupting the current research paradigm by changing the incentives embedded in today’s traditional funding structures. Too often, researchers design quick incremental projects to please grant-making bodies instead of taking on risky, long time horizon problems. With her fund IP Immortal, Laura plans on commercializing anti-aging research, bringing therapies out of the lab and into the market sooner.”
For these true geniuses among us — and I believe they are very few despite all the parents who contend that their children are “gifted” — college may not be necessary. (Thiel himself earned a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.)
Scoring a perfect score on the SAT or ACT signifies that student is smart, but it takes a different level of brilliance and drive to create something where there was nothing before or develop a new technology that changes industries or invents them.
According to The New York Times: (The Times now limits free visits to its web site, so you may not be able to access this story.)
Mr. Thiel, a contrarian investor and libertarian known for his controversial views, knows that suggesting education is not always worth it strikes at the core of many Americans’ beliefs. But that is exactly why is he doing it. “We’re not saying that everybody should drop out of college,” he said. The fellows agree to stop getting a formal education for two years but can always go back to school. The problem, he said, is that “in our society the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college.”
“I think a program like this would have been unthinkable in 2007, but I think you increasingly have people who are graduating from college, not being able to get good jobs, moving back home with their parents,” he said. “I think there’s a surprising openness to the idea that something’s gone badly wrong and needs to be fixed.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog