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9 Programs that Inspire Interest in STEM

Aug. 11, 2017
Thanks to feedback from our readers, Machine Design offers up this list of educational and maker programs designed to motivate interest in STEM topics.

Back in 2016 I wrote a column, "For Success in STEM, Curiosity Is a Prerequisite." At the end of the article I asked readers to send me the names of some of the organizations that help inspire scientific literacy. Since then the responses have been great, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

1. Portable Planetarium. Retired engineer Mike Herr and his wife Paula operate a portable planetarium for the Maturango Museum ( in Ridgecrest, Calif., in the Death Valley region. They take it to schools, libraries, and other venues within a 100-mile radius. There are similar mini-planetariums throughout the country, such as STARLAB: the portable planetarium.

2. Girls Who Code. Here is a great program where young girls interested in computer science can get information, support, and hands-on experience. Being part of networks like this is very powerful, and from here, girls can discover more activities happening locally that will foster their interest in STEM.

The next few organizations come to us from Earle Kyle, an aerospace engineer who helped design the Apollo spaceships that took men to the moon. During the year of the last Apollo lunar landings, he was asked by the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology to help recruit and retain more minority and female students. With some others, he created hands-on STEM camps, visits to corporate science laboratories, computer classes in local high schools. The group of engineers even worked with NASA to take two planeloads of inner-city kids to see the launch of Apollo 17 up close from the VIP viewing area. In addition, the kids got to meet with minority scientists and engineers at a post-launch reception party. Most of those kids went on to pursue STEM careers. So what did this aerospace engineer have to add to the list?

3. NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador . An aerospace engineer’s work is never done. This unsung STEM inspiration currently works as NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. This organization of some 700 volunteers all across the country have the mission to "inspire the next generation of space explorers,” with specific attention paid to turning more minorities and females on to STEM careers.

4. FPSPi (Future Problem Solving Program International). This organization helps students through a series of activities and competitions to develop critical thinking skills. The organization focuses on future issues of global importance, many of which require technological inputs.

5. Montessori Schools. With a focus on engagement and letting students figure things out for themselves, Montessori Schools teach math, science studies, and mentoring students on science projects.

Among other organizations recommended by our readers:

6. SWENext. Organizations like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) are helpful, too. Members talk to young girls about the resources they offer, including SWENext, a program for girls under 18 that provides resources to help them on their path to pursuing engineering—scholarship opportunities, engineering camps and competitions, webinars featuring engineers from different disciplines talking about a day in their life, mentors, and other resources for families and educators that can help promote a career in engineering to young girls.

7. Dunwoody College. E.J. Daigle is dean of Robotics & Manufacturing at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. The Robotics & Manufacturing Department includes two- and four-year degrees in Automation, Design, Electronics, Engineering, Machining, Robotics and Welding. “At Dunwoody, we place a focus on hands-on applied learning that resembles the industry,” says Daigle.

Understanding software to build tangible designs give students confidence, and important hands-on experience that books just can’t offer. 

8. General Electric. The Brilliant Career Lab is a mobile STEM lab (see below) and is the centerpiece of the GE Foundation’s $25 million investment to support Boston Public Schools. Through this commitment, GE has the potential to reach thousands of high-school students in Boston Public Schools each year with career labs and computer science courses. Also, the educator professional development experiences help educators prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce.

9. Aspirations in Computing. An online high-school program that connects users with role models and other peers. The program connects girls with young women already studying computer science and doing things like creating their own apps.

If you  have any suggestions you’d like to add, email me at [email protected] or leave a comment in the messages section at the end of this article.

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