STEMming Hope

My contribution seeks to offer STEM solutions to promote equity and increase youth wellbeing.

Photo of Esperanza Lee
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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

July 10, 2003

What gender do you identify with?

  • Female

Help us stay in touch!

651-774-8383 6895 Bailey Road, Woodbury MN, 55129.

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

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

STEMming Hope addresses food insecurity within urban populations by providing youth with free STEM enrichment. Youth who are less aware of nutrition, health, and wellness are more likely to reach for foods high in sugar and sodium levels. Two barriers restrict access to fresh produce and STEM enrichment - price and availability. Solving this problem matters because healthy food is a necessity, not a privilege.

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

STEMming Hope’s solution tackles the issue of food insecurity through hands-on science and engineering education. We engage youth throughout the process of growing food and encourage them to make healthy, sustainable lifestyle choices. This summer, the hands-on portion of our initiative will center around vertical vegetable gardening, which creatively adapts to land constraints within urban communities and encourages design thinking skills. Our plan includes repurposing empty plastic soda bottles as hanging planters to form bottle tower gardens, which can be secured to a wall or lattice. This model of vertical gardening saves space, upcycles plastic, conserves water through drip irrigation. In addition, we hope to explore other vertical garden structures such as hanging and stackable planters. Our ultimate goal is to pilot a vertical hydroponic garden. By engaging urban youth as producers of vegetables, we will directly address the challenge of food security. Furthermore, we will equip youth with principles of STEM along each step of the process, including engineering through the design of vertical gardens and science through the production of healthy food.

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.

The use of STEM in this initiative is twofold, both in regard to vegetable production and hands-on education, and designing a cost-effective system that overcomes constraints is crucial. Vertical gardening increases air flow and reduces exposure to fungus, a cause of plant disease. In addition, the amount of water conserved through drip irrigation technique is significant, making vertical gardening one of the most sustainable methods of food production. Drip irrigation is not just applicable for places where water is scarce and desert conditions exist. As citizens of the Earth, we are all responsible for as stewards limited natural resources, and it is especially important for us to educate the next generation of youth about their environment. STEMming Hope encourages urban youth to live healthier lifestyles, providing science education on topics including the process of growing food and the biological impact of food on our bodies. Thus STEM enables the implementation of cost-effective, sustainable, and creative solutions in response to today’s problems, as well as education to bring about powerful change.

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

After I joined the Science Museum of Minnesota’s KAYSC Environmental Justice Crew and participated in a climate change kickoff hosted by the Youth Environmental Activists of MN, I became passionate about tackling environmental issues within urban populations and recruited a team of volunteers from my community to address this issue. STEMming Hope was started in 2019 with a focus on chemistry outreach through a generous in-kind donation from the American Chemical Society. In 2020, this initiative expanded to engage youth in inquiry-based environmental learning through vertical vegetable gardening. This project is in partnership with Opportunity Neighborhood, which serves a group of K-5 youth during their after-school program and summer program in St. Paul. Through STEMming Hope, our goal is to increase access to healthy food among urban youth in the context of environmental stewardship.

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.

STEMming Hope has collaborated with 5 community organizations to engage urban youth in hands-on science activities. I organized a weeklong chemistry outreach program for middle schoolers. My initiative also received 2 generous in-kind donations from the American Chemical Society. We tabled at outdoor community events including the Twin Cities World Refugee Day. In the spring of 2020, our team, which included volunteers from the university, led a Microgreens workshop for youth in East St. Paul.

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

One of STEMming Hope’s core purposes is using STEM solutions to increase wellbeing among urban communities. We focus on hands-on education as a way for students to directly interact with science and engineering principles. Businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions all strengthen the community, and STEMming Hope merges the resources of each to maximize the benefits towards urban youth. Along with community partnerships, we especially value intergenerational relationships. STEMming Hope encourages community stakeholders to equip the next generation of environmental stewards.

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

After the success of the Microgreens workshop in early spring, plans were made for further workshops, including one where youth could plant tomatoes to care for at home. However, COVID soon hit, and the workshops have been temporarily place on hold. Although the onset of COVID has restricted in-person activities, STEMming Hope has engaged community organizations in partnerships to benefit youth, including two urban farms. One of these farms is led by youth and supports youth social enterprise with the sales from its produce. Another collaborator, Open Farm, engages in community-oriented agriculture by making and delivering meals for people living with life-threatening illness. These farms have welcomed our team of youth volunteers to engage in their initiatives through the exchange of creative solutions addressing food insecurity during COVID-19.

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

We plan to model different vertical garden prototypes for community organizations within the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. We will directly engage youth and families in the community, and pilot a variety of vertical structures to educate youth about the science of growing food. If social distancing restrictions due to COVID continue throughout the summer, STEMming Hope will directly reach urban youth and families through supplying kits with seeds planted in the vertical gardening structures beforehand. Thus, families will be able to engage in vegetable production even in the safety of their own homes. All materials and instructional resources will be provided for the families, and our team will periodically check in with each family.

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

Youth would drop in during STEMming Hope’s regular afternoon sessions at the local library and eagerly experiment with the activity of the day. At outdoor events, visitors intentionally sought out our table after reading about our colorful and fun science activities. Along with my peers at the Environmental Justice Crew, I enlisted classmates at my school to write postcards to government officials advocating for climate justice reform. Youth also loved eating the Microgreens with omelets.

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

I would partner with other changemakers to bridge the knowledge, resources, and experiences which have driven our successes. We do not each need to reinvent the wheel, but as leaders in the community, it is important to share what has and has not worked for us in creating tangible impact. The experiences which fuel our passion and the goals which we hope to achieve are magnified when we collaborate with each other in the shared hope for a better future.

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

I would show and tell others what is possible with cost-effective sustainable methods in an urban setting with space constraints. Both the set-up and maintenance are simple. Through hands-on workshops to understand the science behind gardening and healthy eating, a new generation can have greater access to nutritious food and lead healthier lives. I plan to participate in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Inaugural STEM Justice Youth Summit later this year.

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

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k


Carol Lee,, 303-800-6769 Jordan Lee Thompson,, 515-208-2772 Margaret Wachholz,, 651-600-4642

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or General Motors, who was it?

Youth Service America

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1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Alexander Forchette

This is an amazing organization! Knowledge is the best tool that you can give someone, and I love how you are using STEM to educate youth. I think this is a very important initiative, and you have been very successful so far! I am excited to see that future that you help create. You are truly a changemaker!