STEM Changer

To empower youth with diverse needs to pursue STEM by developing problem-solving skills & increasing understanding of environmental science.

Photo of Alyssa Tang
6 12

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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.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 children has some form of developmental disability including autism, ADHD, visual and hearing impairment. Environmental science is often not regarded as a traditional academic subject for students with disabilities. However, they would benefit immensely from developing science inquiry skills essential in higher education, employment in STEM fields. It would also enable them to become responsible citizens of the earth.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Inspired by a boy with autism whose speech improved dramatically after he discovered his passion for science from performing hands-on experiments, I aim to teach students with diverse needs environmental science experiments they can implement at home. Many people with a disability are capable of independent or semi-independent living, and, like all citizens, need to understand different aspects of our environment and the impact of our daily actions on our planet. These experiments will promote science inquiry methodology and connection to real-world problems. I will adapt experiments to have more pictures and less text, which can be overwhelming for kids on the autism spectrum. I also provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform the experiments. I created easy-to-understand worksheets that explain the objective of the experiments and environmental specific vocabulary as well as allow students with diverse needs to create their own hypotheses and explore the experimental procedure. Those with more knowledge on the scientific processes can dive right into the experiments, and blog posts were created for those who need more guidance.

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.

I first began solving environmental challenges using STEM when I was appalled by the amount of packing material we receive with the online shopping packages. I started growing a biodegradable, fire retardant eco-friendly material using mycelium and sawdust. I analyzed its effectiveness as compared to standard foam for a science fair project. My passion for environmental science increased through the study of ecology and water quality in Science Olympiad. As an avid competition member, I have self-studied these topics in depth. Using my experience with Science Olympiad and Science Fair, I have created experiments appropriate for students with diverse needs that they can try at home. My goal is to use hands-on science experiments to spark interest in environmental science. By seeing firsthand the results of their experiments, my hope is that they may modify any habits that may be detrimental to the environment and in the long run, they may pursue the sciences in higher education and increase their chances of being employed in the STEM field.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

While conducting research for my National History Day project, I discovered that even though accommodations are now commonplace for people with disabilities, there is still an employment disparity and wage gap today. I was disheartened to learn that while the ADA has improved accessibility tremendously, it has not been as successful in breaking barriers for individuals with disabilities for employment. I found that employers are motivated to increase diversity in the STEM field, but there are not many qualified candidates since many students with disabilities are not pursuing STEM fields. My goal is to provide fun engaging experiments that encourage analytical thinking in environmental science to prepare them for science in higher education. To that end, I plan to host workshops and annual science competitions with prizes to inspire students with diverse needs to showcase their projects.

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.

I created a website featuring sample lessons of environmental science experiments such as oil spill clean-up with a guided worksheet. As kids perform their experiments, they record their data, answer questions on the doc, and submit it for feedback. I have also posted blogs on concepts of experimental methodologies, scientists with disabilities, spotlights and practical steps to sustainability, so they can connect the experiments to real-world scenarios and learn how to protect the environment.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

While there are other STEM education websites online, some have more observational science activities and others have more advanced experiments requiring many steps and hard-to-understand materials. STEM Changer is dedicated to teaching science inquiry skills with a focus on environmental science experiments customized for students with disabilities. In the Google Classroom I created, students can submit their work, receive feedback and be featured in the gallery as a young scientist. My long-term goal is to mentor students through interactive workshops, culminating in annual science fairs.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

Since my project is in the initial phase, I have poured hours into researching barriers for students with disabilities. I first looked into science education available online and figured out how I was going to adapt science lessons and experiments so that they were not too simple or too difficult. I have started creating my website with experiments focused on environmental science and articles with scientists with disabilities to debunk the myth that science may be out of their reach. Unfortunately, since teachers and school administrators have been extremely busy with remote learning with the current pandemic, I did not want to add to their workload by approaching them at this time. Most people have more urgent tasks to attend to. I hope that once schools re-open I can reach out to the target groups of students, mentor them in person and host science fairs to showcase their projects.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

The number of children with disabilities increases from 1 in 6 in the U.S. to 1 in 3 worldwide. One of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is “to eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities.” It is also imperative to “substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment...” After contacting school officials and leaders in the disability community to publicize my initiative, I can expand my initiative. In the long-run, I hope to impact even more students by providing my online resources and virtual science fairs on a global scale.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

As I just completed sample experiments and blogs on my website, I am now in the phase of recruiting peers who have experience in science fair projects or environmental science to contribute experiments and blogs to the website. With friends in Science Olympiad who are passionate about STEM, I am certain many would be interested in contributing to the cause. Once schools reopen, I hope to reach out to students in other schools, and from various summer programs that I will be networking with.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

While doing research for my National History Day project, I contacted the founder of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund for an interview. I will email her to see how I can spread the word on my project. From my research, I also know of other public figures with disabilities that would most likely agree to spread my ideas as they are disability rights advocates. I plan to partner with local schools, organizations and corporations to publicize my website to the target group of students.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

I would begin by showing them my video and the story of the autistic boy who inspired me. I would emphasize the statistics that 1 in 6 children has a disability in the US and explain the short-term and long-term benefits of promoting problem-solving skills for individuals with disabilities. I hope that others would see the importance of educating young students with disabilities on STEM and specifically environmental science topics and the impact that the volunteers would have on the community.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

10 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Probably - 40%

Maybe - 0%

Probably not - 10%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 30%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 30%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 30%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 10%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 40%

4 - Yes, I think so - 30%

3 - Maybe - 30%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 66.7%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 70%

4 - Yes, I think so - 0%

3 - Maybe - 30%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4- Yes, I think so - 44.4%

3- Maybe - 22.2%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 85.7%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 71.4%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 57.1%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 57.1%

Other option - 14.3%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 50%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 25%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 25%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 25%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 75%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Felicia Wong

Great job! Good luck with your project and all your future endeavors. I hope you have great success because preserving the environment and earth is so important...and to encourage all students of every ability to get involved is a worthwhile endeavor. Glad to see this effort!

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