Program Profile: Latino STEM Alliance Builds Awareness of STEM Careers Through Real World Engineering Challenges

lsa-4Engaging students in real world engineering challenges, Latino STEM Alliance teaches the engineering design process while allowing students to explore STEM careers and authentic applications of STEM. Through this BoSTEM program, underrepresented students in STEM including girls and people of color are given opportunities to approach engineering in a creative and relevant setting, building the interest and confidence that leads students down STEM career paths.

“Our mission is to empower and inspire underserved students in the STEM arena so that they will continue in a STEM career or pursue a STEM major in college,” says Amanda Martinez, Executive Director of the Latino STEM Alliance. “We want to make sure we provide access so that they can have the same opportunities as students at other schools.”

lsa-3Each week, students in Latino STEM Alliance programs work in teams to solve engineering challenges by building and programming Lego Robots. During these challenges, students explore simple machines, touch and light sensors, and the basics of coding while learning and applying the engineering design process. After building, testing, assessing, and redesigning their robots, students reflect on their application of the design process to form an understanding of how real engineers work to find solutions.

To make engineering design challenges more relevant to students, Latino STEM Alliance builds its curriculum around an annual theme. Incorporating a theme grounds design projects in real world scenarios, encouraging students to consider practical applications of STEM and the scope of possible STEM careers associated with these applications.

“Having a theme helps us connect students to other professions and applications of STEM,” says Martinez. “It is very important because many students in underserved communities might not see these professions otherwise.”

lsa-2This year, Latino STEM Alliance design challenges will be based on agriculture. Over the course of the year, students will explore this theme by designing automated robots that complete agricultural tasks like planting seeds, irrigating fields, and harvesting crops. These projects get students thinking about the different ways engineering and robotics are intertwined with modern agriculture while simultaneously engaging them in designing creative solutions.

“We want to make sure that we are able to integrate different aspects of STEM into what we are doing on a week to week basis with the students,” says Martinez. “In many minds, agriculture is picking crops or milking cows. More and more now, it’s how can we use machinery to help us do these things.”

lsa-1To help students further explore real applications of STEM, Latino STEM Alliance organizes fieldtrips to tech workplaces and enlists STEM professionals to speak to classes about their education and career pathways. Last year, Latino STEM Alliance brought a group from the National Society of Black Engineers to speak to students at the King K-8 School about their different careers in engineering and their experiences as people of color working in STEM. Later this year, Latino STEM Alliance students will visit the Broad Institute to meet with real researchers and learn how editing DNA affects traits in organisms.

“It is real world,” says Martinez. “Students are learning about how they themselves can continue their education and enter into a STEM career that they may never have heard of before.”