More than 3,000 middle school students a year will be introduced to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), thanks to a collaboration between Qualcomm Incorporated and the University of Michigan College of Engineering.
These organizations are bringing the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™, a hands-on engineering and career awareness program, into the Michigan Engineering Zone (MEZ), known for its makerspace and high school robotics program.
Fourth graders from the Coleman A. Yound Elementary School learn to program Arduino kits to spin motors in order to design and build their “moving Diorama”. Photo: Evan Dougherty
“The Thinkabit Lab provides us an opportunity to expose younger students to the world of technology, beginning to crystalize in their own minds what role they may play as technologists, scientists, and engineers,” said Julian Pate, director of the MEZ. “The Thinkabit Lab provides several pathways for that kind of thinking. Our perspective is really simple: exposure is success.”
A view of the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab. Photo: Evan Dougherty
Youth from more than 60 Detroit public middle schools will have access to the one-day workshops at Thinkabit Lab. For many of these students, the experience will mark their first exposure to STEM careers and engineering. The organizers anticipate an even broader reach to students of all ages in the long term.
“Qualcomm is proud to collaborate with such a strong engineering institution as the University of Michigan and its innovative Michigan Engineering Zone,” said Susie Armstrong, senior vice president of Engineering, Qualcomm Incorporated. “Together, we are bringing our unique Thinkabit Lab program to students and teachers in the Detroit area. We’re excited to expose these students to STEM and other careers and hope to inspire them to become the next generation of inventors.”
Students will engage in Thinkabit Lab’s signature Qualcomm® World of Work (QWOW™) career exploration activities to discover their own unique talents and learn about concepts and careers in STEM fields, such as the Internet of Things, 5G, creative robotics, and invention. They will also engage in unique hands-on engineering experiences, learning basic programming and strengthening their problem-solving, teamwork, and critical thinking skills by designing and building their own robotic inventions.
“I didn’t know that you could use a computer to make things move,” said Tamia Washington, an eighth-grader at Spain Elementary-Middle School, as she used her laptop to control a circuit that could blink or turn a fan.
Bringing the Thinkabit Lab to the MEZ is part of Qualcomm’s efforts to bring its STEM initiative to diverse communities and regions nationwide, helping to close the STEM skills gap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015 there were more than 500,000 open computing jobs in the U.S. That same year, only about 60,000 students graduated from U.S. institutions with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information services. This shortage in qualified tech workers is predicted to increase.
This skills gap showcases the need for STEM-related curricula in schools and an overall prioritization of technology education in the U.S. The collaboration with Michigan Engineering aims to inspire students to become inventors and not just consumers; as well as grow an inclusive, diverse workforce to support business growth and help strengthen the region’s economy.
“We are very focused on first providing the Thinkabit Lab experience to Detroit students. We know that STEM education is gaining interest everywhere, but we also lack ongoing opportunities for STEM in Detroit. So, we think it’s a natural partnership between us and Detroit Public Schools Community District as one option on a menu of opportunities that they can offer to their students,” said Haley Hart, a Thinkabit Lab Coordinator who teaches the workshops.
Organizers are also interested in exposing more girls to STEM fields.
“Coding, robotics and engineering is not the future. It’s the now. So that’s what we need to teach,” said Lakia Wilson, a guidance counselor at Spain Elementary-Middle School. “Engineering is a totally new experience for our students. All of our students need the exposure, the opportunity and the access because if not, then they won’t fully understand what they may have the ability to do in life. We don’t want any of our students to be in that pocket. They are our future.”
Professor Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at U-M, agrees. “We are very pleased to be bringing the Thinkabit Lab to Detroit. Forging a partnership between Qualcomm and our Michigan Engineering Zone will benefit our community and touch thousands of young minds every year,” said Gallimore, who is also the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor both of aerospace engineering and of applied physics. “With this unique collaboration, we are opening up more opportunities for students in southeast Michigan to gain exposure to STEM disciplines. We hope these experiences will spark a passion for creativity and problem-solving and will ensure an even brighter future for our community.”
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 3K Detroit area middle school students per year will have access to this Qualcomm Thinkabit lab
- 60K students graduated from U.S. institutions in 2015 with computer and information degrees
- 500K open computing jobs in the U.S. in 2015
Located in the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center, the Michigan Engineering Zone (MEZ) is a safe and supportive innovation space where Detroit students acquire the knowledge and tools they need to propel themselves to higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through challenging and exciting hands-on experiences. Last year, the MEZ received a 250K Google Grant.
The FIRST Robotics teams of Detroit high schools stand center stage at the MEZ. The College of Engineering provides the needed space, equipment, training, and mentoring to assist students in the design, build, and test of their robots for competition. Outfitted with computer labs complete with CAD software, a machine shop, robot testing area, and collaborative workstations, Detroit’s professional engineers and University of Michigan faculty, staff, students, and alumni provide technical training and mentoring within this environment of learning, leadership, teamwork, and fun!