Reach the stars… That’s what came to mind when the new educational outreach committee at SHPE Boston was formed on Jan 1, 2017. Saul Garcia and Jeremy Ridore, both WPI Engineers from the Greater Boston Area, were tasked with a bold mission to raise STEM awareness, interest and skill for Massachusetts K-12 students. The two knew they would need help, so they enlisted others from the community to assist with strategic planning.

After three months a finalized plan was developed and presented. The plan, in their mind, would lead the greatest MASSive movement towards closing the STEM resource gap in under-served communities like Boston, Lawrence and Worcester.

In April, the S.T.A.R.S. initiative a.k.a. Students Trained And Ready in STEM, took off. On April 6 2016, the SHPE Boston team ran their first of a series of STARS event, this one labelled STARS @ The Menino Community Center, in Roslindale MA. In attendance where 50 K-12 students from the Boston Public Schools and local community centers as well as 15 volunteers, 80% of which had a STEM related degree. Together we hosted a near 3 hour event in the basketball gym that included, food, networking, individual & team activities, and awards.

As the 50 students entered the gym, they were welcomed by coordinators and pointed to our registration table, where they would pick up their name badges, and a star sticker. They were then handed over to a guide. The guide then had them place the star sticker on the rectangular award board, a board that had four STEM pictures on each corner (one for each STEM discipline), next to the picture they most associated with.

Next the guides walked the students over to a table occupied by a volunteer to complete an introductory survey. Questions like do you know what STEM is? Do you like STEM? Not only that but all volunteers were equipped with ice breaker cards that helped them ask similar questions to spur student interest and curiosity in STEM. Upon completion of the survey the students would receive a star sticker on the name tag, certifying them for food and what a smile it put on our face when they walked up to the food table pointing at their sticker. After some food, full tummies and happy faces we began the activities.

The first of two activities was the STEM Boot camp. Six action packed STEM activities to peak student interest.

The second activity was the Marshmallow Challenge a team building exercise, that tested their abilities to prototype and fortify the largest standing structure using: 1 yard string, 1 yard tape, 20 pieces of spaghetti, and 1 Jumbo Marshmallow.

Thanks to donations from the community we were able to provide individual and team STEM awards to 40% of the audience. We handed out 6 individual prizes for activity 1, and 3 team prizes for activity 2.

There were a few major take always we wanted to share after conducting this event:

  1. 50% of the students were most interested in Technology, per the results of the STAR Board. As we collected this information during registration, we were able to use this insight to tailor our conversation to the students. Interesting pre-survey technique? We expect to deploy other strategies like this to help us tailor our events in real time.
  2. Things didn’t go as planned, however we learned what went well and what didn’t. We plan to iterate and make improvements, like the kids did in the marshmallow challenge. We are updating our “playbook” with new strategies and will continue to develop new content as we learn to tailor our events.
  3. We believe that using our combined STEM expertise we have built a repeatable strategic approach to engage students of all ages and now we just need more volunteers and content to scale. 12% of our organization was at this event, so we will work to discover how those numbers can be improved and we are in the process of developing content by way of empirical research in the STEM education field.
  4. We have accumulated data regarding our students, volunteers and the event, and it seems to be a lot. We find that it is difficult to comb through the events data to reveal insights of our community as well as our performance & efficiency with STARS. As we scale there will be more data and it will be even more challenging. To solve this problem we are working out a deal with a local Massachusetts Data Science organization that is committed to helping us find trends that reveal growth opportunities. We plan to announce the partnership very soon! Be on the look out.
  5. We are expecting to run another STARS event for middle school students and could use volunteers. Call it crazy but we believe we can turn around a second event in 30 days no problem. We have a program that will prepare you (the community) to help the students in STEM even if it’s not your career. We really need your help!

At SHPE Boston, we want to raise acceptance rate of our students, and decrease the rate of drop outs, but it’s harder than it seems. For STEM it’s challenging because explaining the benefits doesn’t seem to be as “cool” as seeing them or experiencing them. What we aim to do needs to be repeatable because helping students one time isn’t going to change much. Like sports, all of us need to develop muscle memory to learn and teach STEM, especially so we can help our next generation and the current one go far.

Yes, STEM isn’t perceived as the sexiest term right now, and that may never change, but it might be too soon to tell. A new age has been born and a new culture is emerging. One where computers, games, virtual reality, devices, robots, IoT and more will become a big part of our lives. From the looks of it, the students love it, and we know the potential that lies in STEM. If this love becomes strong enough there will be a greater need to provide support to those shifting in pursuit of a STEM career. SHPE Boston believes the shift has begun and with the S.T.A.R.S. program we aim to propel STEM community growth. Let’s go all the way together. Every Second Matters.

If you are interested in helping SHPE Boston as a volunteer, investing in S.T.A.R.S, or would like us to come see your students please contact one of the following members!

  • Saul Garcia –
  • Jeremy Ridore –
  • Axel Vigo –

Interested in learning more about SHPE Boston?

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