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.

Photo of Ashna Patel
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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

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

30 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 96.6%

Probably - 3.4%

Maybe - 0%

Probably not - 0%

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 - 55.2%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 37.9%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 6.9%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

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! - 69%

4 - Yes, I think so - 20.7%

3 - Maybe - 10.3%

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 - 0%

3 - Maybe - 0%

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! - 79.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 17.2%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not - 3.4%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 86.2%

4- Yes, I think so - 13.8%

3- Maybe - 0%

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 - 87.5%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 54.2%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

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 - 79.2%

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 - 70.8%

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 - 75%

Other option - 4.2%

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. - 63.6%

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 - 63.6%

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? - 9.1%

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 - 27.3%

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 - 45.5%

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? - 36.4%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 9.1%

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Attachments (2)

Stem and Buds New Chapter Handbook 2020.pdf

This handbook is to recruit high school students interested in starting a STEM & Buds chapter at their school.

Stem and Buds Sponsor Packet 2020.pdf

This packet is used to inform companies and organizations interested in sponsoring STEM & Buds and help us make all programming cost-free to students.


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Photo of John Catanzaro

We love to see our planet protected by young people, these kids sound great!!!!!!

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