If you think back to your own personal K-12 experience, was there something that inspired you to grow as a student, motivating you to explore a field that turned into your future career? This happened for me during my senior year when I joined my high school robotics team. Prior to joining this team, I remember asking my teachers “why do we need to know this?”, and they always pointed out that we needed to learn this information because we would be tested on it. That statement was never motivating to me.
What made robotics different is that it gave me hands-on experience. For example, I learned for the first time how to apply algebra to the real-world. Using Ohm’s law, I could figure out ways to make a robot move faster which was much more eye opening than learning something for a test.
In college, while I was working on my electrical engineering technology degree, I began volunteering with College Mentor for Kids. I worked with elementary aged, at-risk youth, who were dealing with a multitude of barriers such as low income households, family issues, behavioral problems and educational setbacks. Within this environment, I witnessed the power of technology education and its ability to inspire and engage the minds of young students 𑁋 many that would otherwise be overlooked within the average classroom. By providing students with a hands-on task like assembling robots with legos, they were energized to not only complete this task, but to tackle more difficult experiments. I was hooked and wanted to continue to help inspire future generations.
These experiences motivated me to pursue the role as a teacher of technology education and coach robotics which, ultimately, brought me to my current position as president and CEO of TechPoint Foundation for Youth (TPF4Y). Now, in a world where the demand for individuals with backgrounds in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) continues to grow, it is crucial that all students have access to greater educational resources in these fields.
TechPoint Foundation for Youth
TPF4Y is a nonprofit organization that has been bringing STEM education and resources to Indiana educators and their students since 2001. Our mission aims to ensure that all Indiana K-12 students have access to experiential learning opportunities that increase STEM knowledge and inspire career exploration. Through this mission, we have specifically prioritized connecting and supporting students that are typically underrepresented within STEM fields 𑁋 low income, female and students of color. During a typical year, we are able to reach more than 36,000 students within 51% of Indiana schools. This past school year, due to COVID-19, we were able to serve more than 20,000 Indiana students. While this is great progress, there is still plenty of work to be done.
While we are not a direct provider, we do much more than just award schools grants. Our foundation helps provide professional development and ongoing teacher support so that Indiana educators feel comfortable teaching the content and know where to get answers. For example, if you give any teacher a robotics kit, without proper training on how to use it or how to teach robotics, they may be intimidated by the technology and have a difficult time supporting their students. This can result in these teachers ultimately giving up. TPF4Y strives to prepare educators for the crucial role as a robotics or technology coach by providing professional development training programs.
Once this development has taken place, it is also crucial that these educators be connected to STEM Partners, which is a mentoring program created in partnership with Eli Lilly that connects STEM teachers to local STEM professionals that can give them support and help them connect what is being taught in the classroom to situations that an individual will come across within a STEM career. Through the STEM Partners program, our students also begin to see adults that look like them working in their dream roles, which provides them with positive role models who can help motivate them to continue their education within these fields.
STEM education is essential for the future
STEM teaches our future generations 21st century skills 𑁋 critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. These skills are essential as we learn and grow, exceeding past our K-12 experiences and into real-world careers. At a very young age, it introduces and supports the ideology of competing with one another as opposed to against each other. While today’s sports leagues and clubs provide outstanding opportunities for our youth to engage in team/leadership building and physical activity, a STEM sport such as competitive robotics, gives students the opportunity to interact in ways and situations that they have never come across before, preparing them for the real-world like no other program. It connects students from across cities, states and even countries, challenging them to work together even when language barriers are present.
As students move past their K-12 years and into careers, they become the next generation’s mentors. While our youth begins to age out of sports in middle school, high school and college, STEM education provides participants with a multitude of future, lifelong careers as well as unlimited learning opportunities. The idea of the typical STEM student is also changing before our eyes as STEM programs become more accessible to students across the state with the support of TPF4Y.
While the incorporation of STEM resources in the classroom is essential, it is often overlooked. TPF4Y provides the guidance, grants and resources necessary for Indiana school corporations to make STEM programs a priority and accessible for all students.