After the premature birth of his daughter, MedTech entrepreneur Ruben Salinas dedicated his life to advancing medical science and the technology around diagnosis for complex obstetrical conditions. Investing in new groundbreaking diagnosis tools that would eventually lead to helping to save countless lives, Salinas recently founded his new benefit corporation, URLimitless.org, to help educate young people on the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) principles and solve some of the biggest challenges in today’s society.
Following the launch of the Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian manned mission to space, Salinas joined the campaign to help raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – sharing his vision for education and his desire to go to space.
Discover in this interview his insights into MedTech, his thoughts on today’s healthcare system, and how he’s getting involved in the world’s first all-civilian mission to space.
You’ve been an advocate for children and women’s health for many years. How did it all start?
Twelve years ago, my family’s life changed when our only child was born prematurely. My wife’s diagnosis was extremely stressful and time-consuming, taking clinicians at one of the world’s finest hospitals several excruciating hours to complete, given the primitive nature of the diagnostic methods available back then.
During that event, I decided to dedicate my career to improving the technology available for the diagnoses of complex obstetrical conditions. This decision eventually led me to co-inventing a diagnostic test with unprecedented performance in predicting preterm birth. Two years later, I founded a start-up focused to further develop and commercialize it.
Having built several companies that develop medical technologies, what is your perspective on America’s current healthcare system? How can things be improved to help families?
I believe there is a moral and economic imperative to ensure that all Americans have access to reliable health coverage and high-quality healthcare. Progress is being made here, but it is simply not enough. To ensure sustainability, we also need to achieve a genuinely high-performing healthcare system by lowering costs, improving quality, and increasing value.
While fixing our healthcare system’s problems, we also need to be careful to maintain its strengths, including its world-leading research, medical technology, and innovation, alongside compassionate care and respect for patient autonomy.
Public policy is also an essential component. For instance, there are several initiatives ongoing to address social determinants of health. But, change can’t only come from the outside in. Healthcare payers and providers must ultimately lead the change by transforming healthcare delivery from the inside out. Within the health care system, for instance, there are federal and state Medicaid-specific initiatives, as well as multi-payer initiatives, focused on addressing social needs.
I aspire to help develop a more accessible, innovative, and high-performing healthcare system for Americans. More generally, I want to support organizations that serve patients and create jobs, to perform better.
You recently announced the launch of URLimitless Education with your daughter. Can you tell us more about it?
Innovation is the fundamental source of economic progress. Technical and scientific knowledge are important contributors to our country’s living standards. That fact is even observable in the Constitution, which explicitly gave Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” by allowing the granting of patents to inventors.
According to the Brookings Institution, inventive activity is strongly associated with economic growth at both the national and metropolitan area levels. Technological innovation requires STEM knowledge and expertise.
STEM education has been acknowledged by national leaders from both major political parties. In 2006, for example, President Bush launched the American Competitiveness Initiative to improve STEM education and increase the supply of working scientists. Following his presidency, President Obama noted the criticality of STEM education multiple times in his speeches, and created the “Educate to Innovate” campaign to boost STEM education.
Sadly, many children still don’t have access to an up-to-date core curriculum that meets our country’s, as well as the rest of the world’s needs. That is why we are developing a curriculum from “best-in-class” providers in the market along with our own home grown content, which will be pedagogically-designed to deliver effective learning through a digital environment.
How did you get involved in the #Inspiration4 mission in support of St. Jude’s?
For well over a decade, my professional and philanthropic focus has been almost exclusively on children and women’s health. I’ve developed medical technologies aimed at improving maternal and fetal outcomes, and dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to supporting the same cause outside of my work, as well.
When I learned about the Inspiration4 mission and its work with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, I knew this was a match made in the heavens…literally! I’ve always dreamt of being an astronaut. When I was a kid, my father would take me to Miami airport to watch planes every weekend. We didn’t have much money for other entertainment, so that was our regular thing. Those excursions forged in me a dream of becoming a pilot one day.
Eventually, I learned to fly fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Two years ago, I became the first civilian to go supersonic in a Space Support Vehicle as a support pilot in the legendary Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. This is the same jet used to train the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, who called it the “Missile With A Man In It”. Today, it is used to train astronauts in suborbital spaceflight simulations.
What can people do to get involved in the fundraiser?
The most important is to visit inspiration4.com to learn about the mission and how they can participate by donating to the cause. By donating, they will automatically be entered into the sweepstakes for one of four seats representing the mission pillar of Generosity.
If they are a little more adventurous, they can also compete for the Prosperity seat by entering the contest described on the site. The odds are pretty good for the latter, especially considering this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join this historic mission to space.
What are some of the principles you believe young people should embody in relation to STEM?
Ten years ago, when my daughter turned five years old, she began a fun, yet structured program of at-home STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education to complement her Montessori schooling. Over the years, her skills improved, and she began programming her artistic projects with Arduino. Eventually, she committed fully to the arts, working on her stated goal of becoming a published author of self-illustrated fiction works.
In 2019, she was inspired to solve a handicapped accessibility problem in our local community. Along with her team, they won several science fairs and a STEM-in-Action grant award from the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program eCYBERMISSION National Competition. This gave her team the chance to visit Washington, DC, meet with members of Congress, and present their project on a nationally-broadcast contest.
What would be your advice to parents that want to get their kids up-to-speed on digital literacy. How should they go about it?
First and foremost, make it fun. It is never too early to start STEM and digital literacy education. We now understand that learning success requires learners to be at the center of an experience, which then allows them to make connections across disciplines, and provides context.
Early childhood education research is clear in the importance of breaking away from passive instruction to allow for more play and investigation. This type of learning builds skills in children that may serve them throughout their early years, as well as later in life.
Today, students need more than the written word to succeed in their education. Digital literacy expands traditional literacy by encompassing e-learning that incorporates audio, video, computers, and gamification to strengthen thinking and learning.
Introducing information technology early on enables children to access and become familiar with interactive “smart” learning tools. Dr. Mary Kalantzis, Dean of Education at Illinois University, has noted that educators need to “harness the different modes of the digital revolution in order to be effective representers of knowledge.” She further adds that learners today, as well as in the future, should engage in digital media, and make it the “core of teaching and learning.” Today, teachers have many challenges. One of the most critical ones is preparing children to be technologically fluent. By integrating innovative learning technologies into their daily lesson plans, introducing STEM activities, and utilizing creativity-enhancing digital art tools, for example, they can advance children’s literacy and thinking skills throughout grades K-12.