Children are our greatest resource, and all children should have access to the tools they need to succeed in the world of tomorrow. That is why I proposed a product that teaches STEM concepts to children, and I am humbled that the committee found value in my proposal.
According to IEEE, 80% of professions will require some STEM expertise within this decade. However, among high school students only 16% plan to go into a STEM field. The numbers are even lower for female high school students; only 7% of female high schoolers plan to go into STEM.
Of those who do elect to major in a STEM field in college, many either do not graduate or they switch majors. According to SWE, about a third of females who begin college in a STEM field change majors. Of the females who successfully graduate with an engineering degree, only 30% are still working as engineers 20 years later.
Currently, only 13% of engineers identify as women, and 26% of computer scientists identify as women. By race, only 3% of engineers are Black, 8% are Hispanic, and 14% are Asian.
All of these numbers are alarming. Clearly, there is an increasingly large skills gap in the United States. This is especially true of underrepresented populations. One way that I have chosen to combat the problem is by introducing young children to the STEM fields in a fun, engaging way.
I have been teaching children in the various STEM fields for almost a decade, and I've done so in several capacities: County Science Ambassador; keynote speaker at state conferences; designer and developer of teachers' packets and trunks; Coder Dojo instructor; teacher at several STEM camps; guest speaker for every 4th grade classroom in the county; and more.
One of the most effective methods I have found to generate interest in STEM is by using a fun, universally recognized fan favorite: R2-D2. By introducing children to R2-D2, and letting the kids know that I designed and built R2 from scratch - and each of them can, too - it opens up a world of possibilities for them. Learning about the hardware and software that makes R2 run, along with the woodworking, metalworking, 3D printing, and painting involved, the kids are introduced to a wide variety of STEM concepts and skills. This is especially true when combined with engaging activities and hands-on projects that allow the children to design simplified versions on their own. As they admire their own work at the end of our classes, they discover that math, coding, and engineering are not beyond their reach. The children realize that those fields are not dull, and STEM can be exciting, fun, understandable, useful, and valuable.
Any of the Star Wars droids and characters would be outstanding tools for teaching STEM concepts to children. With a franchise worth $68B, and 24% of American households (~79M) owning Star Wars memorabilia, the Star Wars characters have a global appeal, reaching across multi-cultural boundaries, and bringing children together with a shared interest regardless of their own background or personality type. The droids are safe and easy tools with which to teach STEM, and they encourage teamwork, exploration, and innovative problem-solving, thereby preparing the next generation to work together to develop creative solutions for the complex problems facing humanity.
R2-D2 has served as an excellent ice breaker and assistant teacher. However, it weighs hundreds of pounds and it is a long-term build (it took me a year) so children are less likely to be able to complete the project themselves. Therefore, it only makes sense to develop a smaller, yet equally engaging and recognizable teaching tool. The Mouse Droid is that tool. It's more transportable, and it's far more achievable and affordable for students to build themselves. It is something that children can design and build very quickly, yet they will learn the same concepts as those learned by building R2-D2. With social groups and events like DroidCon and the Droid Builders' Clubs across the country, children can find like-minded friends, and they can find opportunities to collaborate, barter, and trade their products, all while developing their engineering skills and business acumen.
Children are the key to our future. Children of all cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds should have access to engaging learning opportunities that enable them to understand and appreciate STEM concepts, and students from underrepresented populations should be encouraged to pursue STEM careers. If my Mouse Droid outreach program can reach some of those children and encourage them to go into STEM, and if each of those students encourage others, think of the ripple effect it can have!
I am excited about the opportunity to continue to develop my product along with the accompanying teaching materials, and I am grateful to those who placed their faith in my project. I believe in the engineers and leaders of tomorrow, and I am honored to be able to contribute to their growth and future.