STEM Mission Possible: 2 Girls & Robotics!

Charlottesville Women in Tech (CWIT), had the privilege of interviewing two very inspiring young women from Charlottesville, Virginia, who at a grass-roots level are single-handedly proliferating access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for elementary and middle school students in the area.

MEET ADITI AND RIMI

Aditi Prakash and Rimi Kaur are both 2021 Albemarle High School graduates, who caught the STEM bug at an early age. Aditi, has been on the robotics team since 5th grade while Rimi was introduced to robotics in middle school. For her, robotics is intriguing because it involves so many different STEM-related components, “first you have to build the various parts of the robot and then you program it — it has such wide application”.

Rimi and Aditi with a batch of finished Robotics kits

ON A STEM MISSION

During the pandemic lockdown year 2020, while the world was paralyzed, they were worried about the well-being of students stuck in a virtual learning environment with little hands-on stimulation. They put their brilliant heads together and started a program called: Key to Learning: “we wanted to build STEM kits to distribute to elementary schools in the area to get kids interested in physics and robotics, both often not present in the curriculum at that level,” explains Aditi.

“We wanted to enrich children’s lives by creating a space where they have free hands-on access to science outside the classroom,” says Aditi. Each STEM kit includes five lessons related to a fun STEM activity in which they are challenged to accomplish “the goal” in their own unique and creative way. They even built their own website, where every science activity is paired with a lesson and “how-to” video.

WAIT WHAT, ROBOTICS TOO!?

“We were approached by Kim Wilkens, Vice President of CWIT and founder of Tech Girls, to include the Robotics kits she designed, in our program”, explains Rimi, “So, under her direction and with CWIT funding, we created the Robot Design Challenge program. Anyone who completes the challenge will get an online badge. We have already built 50 robotics kits and have materials to build 50 more!” The first kits were distributed to the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia and the Crozet Library.

HOW THEY SKILLED UP

Both were in the robotics club, where they learned from dedicated, inspiring, and supporting mentors and upper classmen — YouTube was also a great way to gain specific skills.

“I would say that talent in STEM, or talent in any field really is not what matters to be successful. What’s more important is perseverance and putting in the work. Unfortunately, especially with science and math, a lot of kids will try doing it once and if they are not incredibly good at it on the first try, they will give up and say, oh, I’m terrible at math or I’m terrible at science. I would tell younger kids that that is not what matters in the end, that is not how scientists are made.” — Aditi

Additionally, both were enrolled in the MESA Bridge Camp, a program for rising 7th and 8th grade girls who go to school in Albemarle County. The MESA Bridge Camp aims to provide a real-life experience with STEM to participants and to build connections between local middle and high school students.

CHALLENGES, LEARNINGS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS

With Key to Learning, Rimi is proud of managing the challenging video editing process, while for Aditi, the hardest part was having to explain complex STEM concepts to an audience of 8–12-year-olds, while keeping it simple, fun and concise.” They are both proud of providing over 500 STEM kits to local elementary schools. Aditi found especially gratifying the feedback from teachers, who underlined “how much fun it was for the kids and how much they enjoyed the learning process.”

Busy making STEM and Robotics kits

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THESE TWO SUPER HEROS?

Aditi is taking a gap year to focus on growing Key to Learning. Rimi is starting at UVA in Biomedical Engineering this Fall. Her dream is to work in the STEM field one day, making certain medical machines, like MRI machines, more accessible, while continuing to help kids gain access to STEM. “Our next step for “Key to Learning” will be to work with local libraries, so anyone interested can go there to get their STEM kit,” says Rimi.

In action at the Boys and Girls Club

HOW CAN WE CLOSE THE GENDER GAP?

Aditi explains that “research shows that a lot of kids decide at an early age, in elementary school, whether they are good or bad at STEM. In my opinion therefore, the solution is to pour a lot of resources into elementary schools, making STEM fun and accessible, something to explore rather than be graded on — ensuring that students are inspired to choose STEM as their career path. Grades and pressures around GPA can sometimes really curb that enthusiasm.”

“I have never seen that girls are faster to give up on anything. It’s rather that our society discourages women from pursuing this field.” — Aditi

Aditi further expounds that it is her belief that free programs like, Bio-Med Tech-Girls (a Summer workshop in collaboration between the UVA Department of Biomedical Engineering and Charlottesville Women in Tech) and the MESA Bridge Camp, specifically for girls, will help get more women into male-dominated fields.

“When it’s just girls, you don’t have to constantly prove that you deserve to be there. Everyone is there to learn. It was an amazing space to be in. We loved it so much we ended up mentoring there after we attended.” — Aditi

AND FINALLY, SOME ADVICE FOR YOUNGER KIDS

“I would like to encourage anyone entering STEM, not to compare themselves to others — don’t worry about what part of their journey they are on — everyone’s path is different.” — Rimi

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED AND HELP

  • Email Aditi and Rimi at keytolearning.ar@gmail.com, to donate, volunteer or to connect them with local libraries or other programs
  • Follow them on social (IN and TW) and help them spread the word
  • Learn more about “Key to Learning

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CWIT provides a safe & welcoming environment for women and girls to connect, learn and collaborate in Charlottesville. https://cvillewomen.tech