Marcelo Anderson spoke to students at the kickoff event for NCSSM’s Summer Research & Innovation Program on Monday, June 10, 2019.


“I hope you have brilliant failures”

NCSSM’s Summer Research & Innovation Program 2019 kicked off Monday with a keynote address from Marcelo Anderson, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships at Biogen. More than 150 rising seniors gathered in the auditorium to hear him speak about empowerment, disempowerment, and how to access one’s personal strengths to find success.

The Student Research & Innovation Program, which serves as the umbrella program for  summer research and entrepreneurship at NCSSM, engages students as makers, thinkers, and doers in a two- to five-week project-based experience that addresses real-world challenges beyond the classroom. Student presentations at the program’s conclusion communicate their discoveries and demonstrate the personal and professional growth so integral to the experience.

Anderson, who in addition to his work as an executive has experience working with high schoolers, opened his remarks with an observation about NCSSM students. “I’ve had the chance to work with Science and Math students before,” he said to the assembled student researchers. “I can pick them out of a crowd. They treat me like a person. . . they listen and have thoughtful conversation.”

Anderson reminded students that the Summer Research & Innovation Program is “world class” in its design and content. “You’re not going to get this anyplace else,” he said.

The program has grown considerably since 2012 when 37 NCSSM residential students came to campus. Of the 179 participating in research and innovation this summer, 34 are NCSSM Online students and two are from the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and The Arts, one of NCSSM’s sister schools. The program operates with funding from donors such as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, Durham entrepreneur Joe Colopy, and the NCSSM Foundation.

Though primed for an incredible academic experience, Anderson acknowledged students might also experience two other things: fear and failure. “Fear is perhaps the greatest motivator,” he said, noting that how one approaches fear determines its positive or negative impact. Failure, he reminded students, is part of learning. “I hope you have brilliant failures.”

Anderson leveraged students’ affinity for their phones to engage them in an interactive presentation; he asked students to use them to submit one-word responses, via a live survey site, to questions posed in his slide presentation: “How are you feeling right now?” “What are you really good at?” and “What are you not good at yet but want to be good at?”

With the click of a mouse, Anderson displayed the answers in a series of white words on a black background. The more common the response, the larger the font. While a few predictably cheeky responses drew chuckles from the teen audience, Anderson turned to the more insightful ones as segues into guidance on how to use positive thinking and networking to harness one’s individual power.

Whether in academic work, professional goals, or personal development, Anderson emphasized that empowering oneself depends on three things: what we focus on, what something means to us, and how we respond to situations.

Before giving over the stage to a Q&A panel of NCSSM alumni, educators, and industry professionals, Anderson reassured students that each and every one of them has the power to decide if their experiences — be it summer research/entrepreneurship or personal engagements — empowers or disempowers them. “Go find some brilliant, wonderful ways to fail,” he said before they ventured out to work alongside mentors from universities, corporations, and NCSSM. “It’s not the endpoint. It’s part of the journey.”

Watch a recording of the keynote address.

To learn more about NCSSM’s Summer Research & Innovation Program, including opportunities to mentor, click here.