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Have a ‘Big Idea’ to improve education in Nevada? $500K could be yours

Updated January 18, 2022 - 12:17 pm

Two major Nevada foundations are calling for transformative ideas to solve the state’s problems in education — and are willing to award half a million dollars to fund them.

The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and the Engelstad Foundation will give winners of a three-phased contest up to $500,000 to solve one question: “Who has an idea for improving Nevada’s educational landscape?”

“Nevada is where I was born and where I’m proud to call home,” Andre Agassi, founder of The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, said in a statement announcing the contest. “This is our appeal to those out there who have an idea, innovation or concept that can strengthen our education system.”

A recent national report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked the Las Vegas region as second-worst for school quality among the nation’s 50 largest metro areas. Other reports consistently put Nevada and the Las Vegas area as among the worst in the nation for education and other child well-being standards.

It’s those measurements that sparked the idea for the contest, said Kris Engelstad McGarry, trustee of the Engelstad Foundation.

“We’re looking for things that are really innovative, things that aren’t allowed to happen within the confines of the school district structure,” Engelstad McGarry said. “Good ideas are very difficult to promote. If they’re new, often they get shut down. So how do we promote forward-thinking people, people who think out of the box? My guess is that most of them that apply are people who see the current system as not working at all.”

Concepts for “The Big Idea Challenge: An Education Innovation Contest” can range from simple classroom tools for kids, technology that supports teachers, a model to boost schools’ infrastructure or anything else, according to a news release.

Initial applications that include a brief pitch of the idea will be accepted until March 31. Judges will then advance select candidates to the second round, where they will be asked to create a business plan and a video that introduces themselves and their idea. In the final round, candidates will pitch their ideas during in-person presentations to high-profile judges including singer-songwriter Jewel and television host Mike Rowe. A winner is expected to be announced by December.

Up to five contestants could win $100,000 each for their idea, according to the contest’s rules. Candidates must be at least 18 and a legal resident of Nevada.

“Our thoughts are, if there’s someone who’s been sitting around mulling over this idea — whether it’s a software idea, it’s a way of learning or teaching kids better comprehension, whatever that may be — we’re willing to invest in them because they wouldn’t have the ability to do it on their own,” Engelstad McGarry said.

Interested applicants can apply online at https://bigideachallenge.org.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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