Helping 21st-century learners gain 21st-century skills

Helping 21st-century learners gain 21st-century skills

Ed Prizes names finalists in three challenges that increase access to career and technical education.

You can’t prepare for a job if you don’t know that job exists or you don’t have the requisite skills. Ed Prizes, the U.S. Department of Education’s series of prize competitions, is increasing access to career and technical education (CTE). These multistage open innovation challenges are lowering barriers for underserved communities and creating opportunities for all learners to connect with employers and experts in different industries. But just opening a door isn’t always enough — that’s why these challenges aim to stand up real programs to teach real skills that lead to real job opportunities.

Three Ed Prizes challenges — CTE Mission: CubeSat, the Rural Tech Project, and the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge — recently named finalists. Schools and education providers across the country are customizing education programs to help different types of learners gain important skills and connect with the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. Each challenge, designed and produced by Luminary Labs, asked entrants to develop new initiatives that are customized for their own communities; the finalists’ programs recognize the richness of our nation’s diversity and demonstrate the breadth of possibility.

CTE Mission: CubeSat

CTE Mission: CubeSat launched in August, inviting high schools to design and build small satellite prototypes. CTE teachers led teams from 22 states as they developed missions for studying topics important to their own communities, as well as broader space exploration. In December, the U.S. Department of Education announced five finalists. Finalist teams from Alabama, Georgia, California, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina are studying a range of topics — from wildfire risk for vulnerable populations and the impact of population growth to Earth’s surface temperature and magnetometer performance data.

Each finalist receives $5,000 and in-kind prizes — including development kits and expert mentorship donated by Arduino, Blue Origin, Chevron, EnduroSat, LEGO Education,, MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, and XinaBox. During Phase 2, which began this month and runs through May 2021, the finalists will have access to mentors and additional virtual resources as they build CubeSat prototypes and plan flight events.

Learn more and meet the CTE Mission: CubeSat finalists.

Rural Tech Project

The Rural Tech Project launched in June. The $600,000 challenge aims to advance technology education, support educators in rural schools, and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. High schools and local educational agencies in 34 states submitted 63 proposals for technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning. In December, the U.S. Department of Education announced five finalist teams from California, Kentucky, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia. Their proposed programs focus on a range of technology skills in a variety of industries — from cybersecurity and healthcare to robotics and aviation.

Each finalist team receives a $100,000 cash prize and progresses to the second phase of the challenge. Beginning this month, teams will develop detailed program plans and build partnerships before programs launch in the fall. The Rural Tech Project will provide on-the-ground assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as finalist teams plan, run, and refine their programs for two academic years. Each finalist team will be supported by a Community Engagement Manager, who will assist with on-the-ground setup, implementation, and evaluation of the program. During summer 2023, teams will document their outcomes and learnings in a final submission; a judging panel will then recommend one grand-prize winner to receive an additional $100,000.

Learn more and meet the Rural Tech Project finalists.

Rethink Adult Ed Challenge

The Rethink Adult Ed Challenge, a national competition to advance pre-apprenticeships, launched in September. The challenge asked adult education providers to design programs that better prepare learners for apprenticeships and other roles with opportunities for career progression. This month, the U.S. Department of Education invited 95 finalists to join the next stage and compete for $750,000 in prizes. Finalists hail from 32 states and two U.S. territories, and include higher education institutions, local educational agencies, community and faith-based organizations, and correctional facilities.

The Stage 2 virtual accelerator will begin next month and run through June 2021. Finalists will have access to a range of digital resources — such as case studies, activities, and webinars with subject matter experts — to help them develop detailed program proposals. A judging panel will review the Stage 2 proposals to select winners; the challenge will award $250,000 to the grand-prize winner, and up to five runners-up will each receive at least $100,000.

See the announcement and meet the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge finalists.

As all three challenges enter second phases, finalists will have access to expert mentorship and virtual resources as they continue working on their prototypes or program plans. These Ed Prizes challenges also seek to encourage other schools and providers to launch their own customized programs by making resources and learnings available to the broader education community.

Receive futures updates on these challenges: Subscribe to the Ed Prizes newsletter. To find out about more competitions, accelerators, events, and other opportunities from Luminary Labs and our extended network, sign up to receive open innovation alerts.  


Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO
Jessica Hibbard
Head of Content & Community