Attending the NAI Conference: A Student’s Perspective


Brandon DelSpina showing his tiger pride  in front of the Smithsonian

Brandon DelSpina showing his tiger pride in front of the Smithsonian

As the advisee to Dr. Joshua Summers and a Technology Analyst Intern with the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF), I was always pushed to pursue personal and professional development. So when Dr. Summers suggested I apply for the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) conference in Washington, D.C., I had no idea what to expect. After some research, I learned the NAI conference was established to recognize inventors in academia, further the development of academic and industry partnerships, and mentor innovative students – and I was about to experience it all first-hand.

From touching down at Reagan National Airport to wheels up at the end of the five day excursion, the NAI conference was an incredible experience.
After attending the president’s welcome reception the night before, I was ready for the opening and general session on the first day. Entering the meeting room, it quickly became obvious I was the youngest person there. Unsure of what to do or where to go, I headed toward the front and sat next to the wife of a man I would learn had a profound impact on my life: Robert Fischell, the father of modern medical stents and an inventor who holds over 200 patents. As the grandson of a man with four heart stents, Robert Fischell effectively saved my grandfather’s life.

The conference continued with informative and intriguing sessions, panel discussions, key note addresses and a walk through the recently constructed George Washington Science and Engineering Hall in the heart of D.C. I could feel the innovative pulse of the country after being in the nation’s capital with some of the world’s most influential and creative people. I’d spent the day learning about topics ranging from innovative lifesaving technologies to the background of influential inventors. The day then ended with a private black tie event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Members of the Clemson community standing in front of the Gallery of Numismatics

Members of the Clemson community standing in front of the Gallery of Numismatics

After entering the Smithsonian, I was greeted with the expansive and rich history of our nation and enabled to further articulate discussions and ideas in a more intimate environment.

The morning following the prestigious black tie event, attendees were again launched into a day of dynamic sessions, panels and discussions. On the second day of the conference, the NAI honored many of the rock stars of the science community and recognized their significant achievements and contributions to society. This took place at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) over an NAI fellows luncheon. At the luncheon, I was privileged to sit by a NAI fellow and we discussed his time at Stanford, previous work with NASA, and his current work in mechanical design. We discovered common ground and have continued to stay in touch even after the conference.

From sitting next to the man who invented and developed the medical stents which saved my grandfather’s life to eating at Legal Seafood with my advisor in the airport terminal prior to departure, this trip was above and beyond anything I expected. To be a Clemson tiger is a privilege and honor not many get to experience, and I am beyond grateful for such an opportunity!

-Brandon DelSpina

Brandon DelSpina is a former Technology Analyst Intern with CURF and was the recipient of a Clemson Inventor’s Club stipend to attend the NAI Conference. Learn more about the NAI here.