Innovation Challenge

About the Academy | Leadership TeamProject Advisors


Have you have ever suspected you could stand out from the pack if only you had the right guidance and mentoring? Yes!? Then read on.

Innovation Academy is known for impactful one-week engineering camps. Their new student mentoring takes STEM and innovation in a brand new direction!

The Innovation Challenge is not some course, “system”, or social club. It is unlike anything you have seen before. In this fellowship, your child will get intense, no-holds-barred interaction and feedback from Dr. Steve Kurti, a PhD physicist and entrepreneur, along with other powerful innovators.

Who Should Apply?

High schoolers interested in leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, STEM, design, or other creative ventures.

What is it?

The Innovation Challenge is a one year project designed to take teens on a journey of self-discovery, deep learning, collaborative action, and leadership training. Weekly video calls and project working hours provide consistent feedback, while face-to-face events foster strong relationships and enhance learning.

Students develop a powerful innovation mindset by learning to take responsibility, solve problems proactively, take action, work hard, take risks, embrace failure thoughtfully, develop discipline, manage internal dialogue, collect wisdom, and pursue excellence. These mental tools are the prized possession of the most influential.

When Will Students Attend?

Students are required to budget time for the weekly 2 hr video call (time TBD when group forms) as well as 8-10 hours a week to collaborate, work on their project, and invest in personal development. There are also three mandatory face-to-face events in Oct, Feb, and June spanning 5 days each over a long weekend.

Where will it be?

The weekly calls will occur via Zoom video conferencing with face-to-face events in California and/or the eastern Tennessee area.

Why the Startup Challenge?

One of the biggest mistakes high school students make is relying solely on grades to get into the University of their choosing. High grades do not cut it anymore. A capstone project will make you stand out in a stack of straight “A” transcripts.

Along the way, you will work with a like-minded group of amazing peers. Together, you will support and encourage each other to create proactive solutions. Combined with mentoring and guidance from a PhD physicist and other industry professionals, you will learn to accomplish outstanding results across a lifetime.



The Innovation Mindset Map – powering innovators

Innovation is quickly becoming the most important skill students need. We are facing unprecedented challenges, and our kids are inheriting a different world from our own. The Innovation Challenge is a completely different kind of educational experience focusing on Ten Core Innovation Habits:

We are currently interviewing potential candidates for the 2019-2020 Innovation Challenge cadre. We are looking for students who are willing to:

     0. Take Responsibility…   completely
          1. Solve Problems…   proactively
          2. Take Action…   immediately
          3. Work Hard…   consistently
          4. Take Risks…   often
          5. Embrace Failure…   thoughtfully
     6. Develop GRIT…   willingly
     7. Remain Positive…   diligently
     8. Collect Wisdom…   continuously
     9. Pursue Excellence…   intentionally

Willingness doesn’t necessarily imply skill in each area, but a willingness to learn, grow, and contribute through a project that has purpose, impact, and significance.These habits build on each other starting with habit #0 (yes, it starts with “0” because it is a prerequisite for all the others). Innovators like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are using these habits (specifically 1-5) to drive positive change. Join us to experience the Innovation Challenge Acceleration.


Still Need More Information?

Click here to download a PDF version of this information to share with someone else.

Listen to the podcast below to hear an interview with Dr. Kurti about the Innovation Academy.



Innovation Challenge Leadership Team

In our work with teens, we have discovered effective technology education requires a tight integration of both technical expertise AND teaching pedagogy.  Tech-focused teens want to dive into technology head first, and having a strong tech mentor at hand to guide them accelerates learning.  On the other hand, technology education is often taught in a heavy-handed approach, but to be most effective, learning must be motivated by the student — requiring the deft insights of a master educator.  Here are the key members of our team.

Dr. R. Steven Kurti, Ph.D.
Steve Kurti

Dr. R. Steven Kurti
Innovation Academy

Role: Chief Maker and Mad Scientist, CEO

 Steve is on a mission to inspire and empower teens to think more deeply through inventing, making, and creating. He is looking for like-minded visionaries to work with him to inspire and feed the educational landscape.

Steve earned his Ph.D. in physics from Case Western University and worked as a laser and electro-optics researcher for the US Navy and Loma Linda University before launching on the entrepreneurial path that became Innovation Academy.


Deborah Kurti, M.Ed.

Debby Kurti, M.Ed.
Innovation Academy

Role: Disruptive Learning Specialist, Chief Learning Officer

 Debby is an educational experimentalist. Her teaching style is an eclectic blend of constructivist pedagogy fused with social learning theory that allows her to facilitate interesting experiences that peak her students’ curiosity and desire to know more. If it involves helping others learn, she loves trying it out. In her field, there is no way to be an expert at everything, so she is an expert at learning and at setting up engaging educational experiences. She is great at connecting people to the resources they need and at connecting people to other people. It’s so much more fun that way!

Debby earned a BA in Linguistics from California State University, Fresno, an advanced online teaching certification from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.Ed. in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University, where her research focused on creating online learning communities of practice. She has been teaching community college computer technology courses for almost 20 years and has taught every grade level from kindergarten through graduate school.



Innovation Challenge Advisors and Contributors

To augment our expertise at the Innovation Academy Startup Challenge, we have engaged the minds of a few top-notch professionals in fields from cognitive development to computer programming.  We all know technology is constantly changing, but our understanding of cognitive development also continues to evolve every year.  Just a few years ago, the common research-supported view was that intelligence remained constant across a lifetime.  We now know that every neuron in the brain is replaced more than once in a lifetime.  The mind is much more flexible and capable of growth than we thought possible.  To fully take advantage of the immense cognitive power in teens, we have asked a number of trusted colleagues who are experts in their fields to advise us on different aspects of the Resonance Innovation Fellowship process.

Kristin Barbour, Cognitive Specialist

Kristin Barbour
Executive Director, National Institute for Learning Development

Role: Cognitive Development

 Kristin’s passion is bringing life-long learning to life and developing independent learners. She is an internationally respected educator and keynote speaker. In addition to being an NILD educational therapist, Kristin is an authorized trainer in the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Program. Prior to becoming NILD’s Executive Director, Kristin was the Director of Discovery Program, Inc (DPI) a community-based organization providing intervention services to students with dyslexia, learning disabilities, and ADHD in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  Kristin has also worked as an inpatient speech-language pathologist at Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.


Podcast Episode: 053 – Getting Smarter with Kristin Barbour

Dr. Jennifer Brenton, Strategic Insights and Expert Parent

Dr. Jennifer Brenton
Obstetrician Gynecologist

Role: Strategic Insights and Expert Parent

Practicing obstetrics and gynecology is one of the greatest pleasures of Dr. Jennifer’s life, as is being a mother to her now-teenage daughter and the founder of a developing physician online platform company. Realizing these three successes has been a journey of discovering the right mix. She found this in practicing as a self-employed locum tenens physician. This perfect fit allows her to continue the full-time practice of medicine on a schedule where she successfully maintains her skills, enjoys patient interaction, observes the evolution of electronic medical records, participates as a parent, and innovates as an entrepreneur.

During my locums journey, Dr. Jennifer has had the privilege of helping to educate Tufts medical students, Mayo Clinic family practice resident physicians, and the University of Wisconsin Obstetrics and Gynecology resident physicians. Multi-year ongoing contract relationships with corporate clients are common for her, although she enjoys the right short-term contracts that allow her to honor ongoing relationships.

Dr. Jennifer currently serves as faculty at University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics for the inpatient and outpatient Benign Gynecology Service. Her career has been blessed with practicing at a US News and World Report Top 100 Hospital, Mayo Clinic Health Care System, and a Top 25 Rural Hospital in an ongoing relationship practicing the full scope of her board certification. She enjoys obstetrics and gynecology at all levels of care, from Level I Trauma Centers with Level III NICU to 25-bed critical care access hospitals. From teaching to community hospitals, she is honored to serve patients and assist staff.


Dr. Eric Hennigan, Deep Digital Discernment

Dr. Eric Hennigan
Senior Software Engineer, Google

Role: Deep Digital Discernment

Bio: Eric works as a software engineer because he enjoys talking to computers in their own language. He also enjoys explaining what he’s learned, helping other’s to benefit from his own experience. He’s very interested in automation, applying lessons taken from cybernetics and human psychology to software development. He enjoys working in software because there are always new languages, new techniques, and new technologies to learn and use.

Eric holds B.S. degrees in Applied Mathematics and Physics from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California, Irvine. He enjoys communicating what he’s learned to others and even acted as Instructor of Record for UCI and Cal State Fullerton while still a graduate student. Despite his formal education, he recommends self-study as a path to skills improvement.


Podcast Episode: 073 – Googling with Eric Hennigan

Alex Huthmacher, Career Strategy and Innovation Mentor

Alex Huthmacher
Senior Network Engineer, Acxiom

Role:  Career Strategy and Innovation Mentor

 Alex is an IT Professional with several specializations such as Networking, Security, Project Management, and Cloud technologies. He has been exposed to many environments, making him experienced with a very diverse set of technologies. Alex has led multiple projects from conception to implementation and helped shaped the directions of company-wide technology policies. This experience has allowed him to master the skills of managing people, tasks, deadlines, and technical constraints. He proves himself through constant studying, sharing knowledge, and consistent leadership. Alex sets himself apart from the typical engineer with strong interpersonal skills, and extreme patience with customers.

Alex has provided services for 21st Century Fox, Sandia National Laboratories, Xerox, SAIC, Comcast, RJB Systems, L-3 Communications, and the MIL Corporation.


  • CCIE:R&S v5 (written)3/2/2015
  • CCIE:R&S v4 (written)
  • CCNP
  • CCDP
  • CCNA: Securtity
  • CCNA: Voice
  • CCDA
  • COMPTIA: Secutiy+
  • Ciena Carrier Ethernet
  • Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist
  • Microsoft Certified Professional


Podcast Episode: 003 – Alex Huthmacher, Manager of Network Infrastructure for 21st Century Fox

Hope Schaefer, Parent Perspective Advisor

Hope Schaefer
Executive Sales Representative

Role: Parent Perspective Advisor

Bio: Hope is a results-oriented executive sales professional with 19 years of success in the healthcare industry with top tier companies. She is a multi-award winner, recognized for exceeding performance goals, with strong communication and interpersonal skills. A self-motivated leader who can excel alone in a territory or bring cohesion to a team, Hope is experienced at navigating a constantly changing healthcare environment. As the mother of a teenage son, she brings valuable insight and expert advice to the Resonance project.

Specialities: Endocrinology (Diabetes), Urology, Cardiology, Pediatrics, Nephrology
Areas of Expertise: Customer-centric solutions, Product launches, Account based selling.


Jonathan Silk, Leadership and Design Thinking

Jonathan Silk (US Army, Ret.)
Executive Director of Leadership Development
UNT Health Science Center (UNTHSC)

Role: Leadership Development and Design Thinking

Bio: Jonathan is an experienced leader and executive coach with a proven record of leading and developing others to perform at higher levels and improve their overall effectiveness. He has a passion for learning and coaching others to improve as leaders. 

Currently, Jonathan is the Executive Director of Leadership Development at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. He is a former Army officer and his last military assignment was as an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Military Academy (USMA), West Point, NY. In that position, he led and taught a required leadership course and served as a role model for the intellectual, professional, physical, and ethical development of the USMA cadets. As a U.S. Army officer, Jonathan had an established record of high performance in complex, volatile, and dynamic environments.

Jonathan is an executive coach who partners with individuals and teams to recognize their full potential. Coupling his knowledge of leader development with over 20 years of leadership experience, he works with his clients to improve their performance as leaders on both a personal and organizational level. Some recent clients include emerging leaders from Nike, Toyota, Afoundria, LLC , and Thermo-Fischer Scientific.

Jonathan holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University (Alexandria), an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas, and an M.A. in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University. He has completed the Columbia Coaching Certification Program (CCCP) at Columbia University. He is certified in the Neethling Brain Inventory (NBI), the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Hay Group Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) 360 assessment tools, and the Hogan Personality Inventory. He is a design thinker and has completed the Design Thinking Bootcamp executive course at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design located at Stanford University.


Podcast Episode: 061 – Leading People with Jonathan Silk

Dr. David Thornburg, Pedagogy and Tech Integration

Dr. David Thornburg
Director, The Thornburg Center

Role: Pedagogy and Tech Integration

Bio: David is an award-winning futurist, author, and consultant whose clients range across the public and private sector across the planet. His razor-sharp focus on the fast-paced world of modern computing and communication media, project-based learning, 21st-century skills, and open source software has placed him in constant demand as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for schools, foundations, and governments.  His current work on new learning spaces resulted in the creation of the Educational Holodeck – and immersive, interactive, learning environment suited for interdisciplinary exploration of academic topics through realistic simulations.

As a child of the October Sky, David was strongly influenced by the early work in space exploration and was the beneficiary of changes in the US educational system that promoted and developed an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills.  He now is engaged in helping a new generation of students and their teachers infuse these skills through the mechanism of inquiry-driven project-based learning.

His educational philosophy is based on the idea that students learn best when they are constructors of their own knowledge. He also believes that students who are taught in ways that honor their learning styles and dominant intelligences retain the native engagement with learning with which they entered school. A central theme of his work is that we must prepare students for their future, not for our past.

In addition to his work with technology, David also consults on the relationship between classroom design and learning.  In this capacity, he is Senior Consultant to the architecture firm, Fielding Nair, and is currently writing a new book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck: How Place Matters in Education.

David splits his time between the United States and Brazil. His work in Brazil also is focused on education, and he has spoken at conferences and consulted for firms and educational institutions throughout that country.


Podcast Episode: 067 – A Real Education with Dr. David Thornburg

Dr. Rachel Winston, College Planning Strategy

Dr. Rachel Winston
Founder, Lizard Education

Role: College Planning Strategy

Bio: Dr. Rachel Winston is a leading educational consultant, award-winning author (2012 McFarland Literary Achievement Award), respected researcher (presented at conferences nationwide), recognized professor (full-time faculty member of the year), and trusted counselor whose tireless life mission is to serve and support students to realize their goals.

As a strategic advisor/consultant in higher education, she assists colleges with creative leadership, online delivery, open source content, technology innovation, public policy, and communication. As an independent educational counselor, she advises/supports students (undergraduate, transfer, and graduate) primarily from California, Texas, and Asia throughout their educational journey. Her advising leads students from uncertainty to clarity through the entire college admissions process including:

  • college selection, persistence, completion
  • career inventories, resumes, job search, interview prep
  • writing coach, editing assistance
  • course selection and academic planning
  • summer and specialized programs
  • athletic college admissions and sports scholarships
  • financial aid and scholarships
  • workshops to support students in the application process
  • study skills training, test preparation, and tutoring

Rachel Winston supports students in educational planning from the initial consultation through the attainment of a job/graduate education.

Parents attest to the extraordinary value of Rachel Winston’s counseling and academic support, which not only leads to student success but provides piece of mind. Advising sessions offer expert analysis and suggestions so that parents and students do not have to spend hundreds of hours seeking to understand admissions, financing, scholarships, essays, majors, careers, and specialized programs.

She helps students master study skills and interview techniques, heighten self-confidence, and clearly articulate their skills and goals.

Specialties: Technology integration into education, online learning, course redesign, math/engineering education, organizational leadership, governmental affairs, freelance writing, statistics, research, and college counseling.


Podcast Episode: 050 – More Input with Rachel Winston


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