STEM&Buds for Sustainability
STEM&Buds is a youth-led 501(c)3 dedicated to sparking initiative through peer mentorship via chapters, summer camps, and outreach programs.
A video highlighting the 2019 STEM & Buds summer camps, which were held at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning and North Allegheny Senior High School. Completely cost-free to students in grades 6-8, we paired over 70 kids with high school mentors to conduct their own research projects and present them at our end-of-program science fair. Students did everything from creating affordable water filtration devices (featured in the video) to modelling and comparing windmill designs.
A video project created by co-founder Ashna Patel for a recently launched outreach program. Via our website, students can now submit videos and articles depicting how they have applied STEM in their own lives to inspire younger kids to do the same. Here, she talks about how she used wasted crop remnants to sustainably solve the issue of increased rains for refugee camps.
A video project created by co-founder Victoria Ren for a recently launched outreach program. Via our website, students can now submit videos and articles depicting how they have applied STEM in their own lives to inspire younger kids to do the same. Here, she talks about conducting statistical analysis using publicly available data and computation, a skill that can be applied in any project.
A picture of students presenting their engineering project on sustainable bridge designs at the end-of-program science fair after our summer camp in August 2019.
A picture of students presenting their engineering project on environmentally friendly water filtration devices at the end-of-program science fair after our summer camp in August 2019.
A student working on his project during an afterschool session at State Street Elementary, our first STEM & Buds chapter. Over the past two years, we have grown from 3 chapters to 13 chapters at various elementary and middle schools in Pittsburgh.
Sarah, a student at one of our 2019 summer programs, recently registered for our new Online Mentorship program. This program provides needed, cost-free, one-on-one, and virtual math and science tutoring for students in grades 4-8 during this time of remote learning.
Eligibility: Please confirm you meet all the following criteria
You are aged between 14 - 18 as of August 1, 2020
You live in the United States or its territories
You are not employed by, or directly related (grand parents, parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
You have been working on this project for at least three months
You consent to us possibly featuring your work on social media
You confirm you have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form
Eligibility: Date of Birth
What gender do you identify with?
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913 Penticon Lane
PA: Warrendale (15086)
Website or social media url(s) (optional):
Date You Started Your Project Started
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)
1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
For many students, STEM has become mistakenly defined by rigid curricula and lectures that fail to illustrate nuance and versatility. With little room for creativity, pre-packaged labs leave students unable to explore their own ideas. The few students that are able to apply STEM through its most genuine forms-experimentation and research-are those with financial means, preventing all kids from using their interests to spark environmental change.
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
STEM & Buds hopes to harness the potential of one-on-one peer mentorship to spark initiative, encourage execution, and overall foster STEM innovation at a young age. We pair students in grades 4-8 with high school volunteers to design their own research project, conduct an experiment, and ultimately present their findings at our end-of-program science fair. Through completely cost-free after school chapters, summer camps, and various outreach programs, we hope to build a lasting and accessible youth network dedicated to promoting individuality and collaboration through authentic STEM-learning. One person cannot protect the environment alone. However, by building a youth-led network of individually gifted kids, STEM & Buds for Sustainability hopes to turn ideas into applications and leave a lasting impact on our community. Our students are encouraged to identify how their passions from chemistry to computer science can be used to improve sustainability efforts, like studying acid rain prevention or building an app to connect customers to local clothing small businesses respectively.
3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.
Within STEM & Buds programs, students are first introduced to application-based STEM for sustainability through engaging team projects and activities that focus on six primary branches: biology, chemistry, engineering, psychology, math, and computer science. Example challenges include using recyclable materials to create the tallest building model, designing sustainable clothing, coding an app template to educate fellow students on renewable energy, and creating a poster with various endangered plants and animals. After these preliminary activities, students are then paired with their mentor to brainstorm a way to innovatively apply STEM for sustainability. As kids explore and execute their own projects, they gain critical 21st-century tools, creative thinking skills, and environmental awareness, which lasts a lifetime. The high school students acting as mentors learn the importance of environmental education and are oftentimes inspired by the imaginative ideas of their students. During our annual science fair, hundreds of students across our city come together to share their ideas, motivate one another, and receive resources on bringing their project to life!
4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
When I joined Speech and Debate in sixth grade, my lack of knowledge made me afraid to speak because I felt my words were worthless. This sentiment stayed with me for over three years until teaching inspired me to be better for a purpose larger than myself. During hours of coaching younger students one summer, I met Lily, who started with sweaty palms over English being her second language but finished with a wide smile after delivering a seven-minute speech she wrote herself. Seeing her entirely deserved pride in what she had achieved made me feel honored to have been her mentor. As I slowly stopped regarding my own abilities as inadequate, I saw how much I loved getting to know her and how impactful mentorship could be for all involved. Today, Victoria and I stand by 317 (and counting) high school mentors, hoping to bring what we love in the speech community to STEM & Buds as well.
5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”
6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.
When STEM & Buds began in July of 2017, we ran three after school chapters with approximately 60 students in total. Since then, we have paired over 600 students in grades 4-8 with high school mentors through 12 after school chapters and 4 city-wide summer camps. STEM & Buds has also launched numerous outreach initiatives, like starting an Online Mentorship Program as students shift to remote learning and creating a website/platform for students to submit videos/articles on STEMxSustainability.
7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
STEM & Buds is unique in that it inspires organic, one-on-one conversation between students of all ages. While speeches, discussion panels, symposiums, and workshops are all valuable experiences, truly listening to a kid's passions, aspirations, and ideas is what ultimately precipitates change. We have spent hours upon hours creating challenges that turn away from traditional lecture-based learning and toward discussion and discovery. STEM & Buds is a completely accessible and cost-free avenue for students to both find their individual interests in STEM and build lasting friendships.
8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?
While STEM & Buds has engaged over 800 students across Pittsburgh, the true impact of STEM & Buds is seen not in the facts but in the friendships. Take Luke, a boy with ADHD who has to leave halfway through the school day at least once a week but had perfect attendance during the STEM & Buds summer camp; with our shared love for football (go Steelers), we researched ways to reuse old footballs during the mornings and played games of no-tackle during lunch. Take Lana, the first student I ever mentored; she called me weeks later for advice on a science fair that her school has never entered before. Take Eileen, the science teacher of at-risk twins living below the poverty line who had to cancel their registration for our summer program due to transportation issues; Austin and Ayden ended up at the top of the registration list for the afterschool chapter we started later that year.
9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
We are working to host numerous community events, such as a green energy discussion panel featuring state representatives, CEOs, and nonprofit directors. Further, our newly launched Researcher-Refugee Collaboration Effort connects Bhutanese and Somalian refugees in high school with the University of Pittsburgh environmental research mentors. We are also organizing a STEM&BudsxRedChair conference that intends to bring ~150 female STEM professionals and high school girls together to spark discussion on closing the gender gap in environmental science and engineering. Smaller projects include hosting workshops in cooperation with SASE and the American Heart Association. By August 2022, we hope to bring STEM & Buds to every state in the U.S.!
10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.
As an entirely for-youth by-youth organization, all of our efforts are made possible by high school volunteers. We have grown our network with hundreds of phone calls and emails to schools, organizations, and community centers around Pittsburgh to start chapters nationally, publicize our summer camps, and build partnerships. Everyone becomes a part of our STEM & Buds family, from the kids who gain confidence in their creative ideas to the dedicated young adults who work tirelessly to help them.
11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?
STEM & Buds, recognizing the value of partnerships, has worked to make our program easily scalable. We have created avenues for high school students to start a chapter via a virtual binder including everything from email templates to publicizing flyers to lesson plans. We have also created sponsorship packages for interested companies to fund our programs. Through weekly team meetings, we have also been able to implement ideas alongside other changemakers and organizations across the nation.
12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?
As the world progresses further into the "Digital Era", STEM advancement becomes such an influential vehicle to bring about tangible change. Considering how sustainability issues are problems of both today and, more importantly, tomorrow, it is critical that our younger generation is equipped to innovatively tackle these matters. Our mission at STEM & Buds is to provide cost-free, one-on-one mentorship for students to take initiative and execute their ideas to better their communities.
13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
Donations between $100-$1k
Donations between $1k-$5k
Payal Patel (parent): email@example.com, 775-762-4859
Janellen Lombardi: firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-934-7219
Carolyn Steele: email@example.com, (412) 369-5530 x33750
Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?
Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?
Communities of color
Religious minority (non-Christian)
How did you hear about this challenge?