All posts by niaja

2016 Benefit Raffle

Now until May 1st for every $10 you donate you earn an entry to our 2016 giveaway. Prizes include (2)- $50 gift cards, (1)- $100 gift card, (2) – “Dinner for 2” vouchers good at Chipotle and (1) signed autographed picture from the Boston Red Sox. Support our Trekkers and win great prizes at the same time!

i-Trek Volunteer David

By Adriana Hammond

David Hill is a member of the co-founding i-Trek Team. As a volunteer, he finds time to contribute to i-Trek as well as pursue a PhD in Media Arts and Sciences. Find out more about David and his contributions to i-Trek. 

1. What drives your passion for STEM?

My passion for STEM is mostly driven by a love of mathematics and problem solving. As a child, math class was always my 4th favorite time of the school day. It followed closely behind dismissal, lunch, and recess. As I grew older, I began to gain a better understanding of how the principles I learned in class could be applied to solving common problems, which kept me motivated throughout grade school and bled over into other STEM subjects. The love of problem solving carried through to college and drove my choice of major and other pursuits as an undergraduate leading up to a graduate education.

2. Tell me about your background? What are some things most people would be surprised to know about you?

Prior to MIT, I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, where I majored in physics. Research was a major part of my undergraduate experience. Throughout college, I conducted research on nano-scale optics for EUV Lasers, working under a professor at Morehouse and collaborating with engineers from Colorado State University. I had zero experience working in my current field prior to coming to MIT, so I loaded up on relevant courses to best prepare myself for the switch in focus before graduating.

3. I would love to know a little about your research at the MIT Media Lab.

My current research focuses on the development of technology to assist in or augment human locomotion. My lab, MIT Media Lab's Biomechatronics Group, is known mostly as a prosthesis and exoskeleton lab, using principles and techniques from robotics to build devices that closely mimic the behavior of biological legs. More specifically, the goal of my project is to build models / simulations of walking that can replicate human gait dynamics, which will be used to govern the behavior of prosthetic devices.

4. We met when you were teaching a Saturday session for i-Trek in the schools. What did you enjoy most about teaching?

The most enjoyable part about teaching is when the students have that "Aha" moment, the moment when it all clicks. That moment signifies not only that the students get the concept, but also that they see the value in it. Too often in STEM, concepts are thrown out at students without them receiving any information about applications or interesting ties to their daily lives. This causes them to miss the value. Any time you can get a student genuinely excited about some concept you feel uplifted as a teacher. Since I am inexperienced as a teacher, those "Aha" moments are not a guarantee for me, but when I do see them it makes it all worthwhile. The Saturday i-Trek sessions have truly been highlights in my teaching career, as the students seemed genuinely excited by the topics we taught.

5. Where do you see yourself taking your education regarding your career?

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the MIT Media Lab. Upon graduation, I would like to apply the knowledge I have gained in industry, building technology to assist elite athletes in training or rehabilitation.

6.Is there anything about your education that you feel impacted you on a more personal/ intellectual level? (career isn't everything!)

Since arriving at MIT, I have come to understand how access to resources impacts the quality of education and how wide of a gap there is between those with access and those with limited access. This gap is one of the root causes behind the general lack of socioeconomic and racial diversity in STEM and higher education and it has driven my desire to contribute to organizations like i-Trek.

i-Trek would like to thank David and all of its volunteers for their contributions to the mission and cause.

The United States Should Lead in STEM Education

By Tim Wright

student in front of schoolThere was a time when our country was the world leader in technological innovation. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969, it represented a technological victory for the United States over the Soviet Union and served as a crucial step in humanity’s exploration of the Universe. During the space race, there was interest and dedication from students and scientists in technological advancement. Now, with the changing politics and new generation, students simply are not as interested in science, technology and math as they were in the past. Technological innovations and ingenuity are declining in America. Other countries are catching up, and many have surpassed America in all quantifiable areas. There are many reasons that this decline is detrimental.

Unemployment would decrease if the job seekers in our country took advantage of the vast opportunities in the areas of science and technology. According to America Desperately Needs more STEM Students. Here’s How to Get Them,” published in Forbes Magazine, 50 percent of the economic expansion in the U.S. is in the fields of science and engineering, yet only five percent of the workforce is employed in those fields. The result is a much smaller field of competition for science and engineering jobs, and a more competition for other jobs. If more high school graduates chose majors in science, engineering, technology and math, they may have an easier time finding a job after college.

Part of the problem is that the changing demographics in the country show a correlation with the decreasing interest in science and math among high school students. According to the Forbes article, right now, 43 percent of students are of non-white ethnicity. However, of the Bachelors degrees awarded in the science and math fields, only 15 percent are given to minorities. The fact of the matter is, our population is changing and as a country we are still figuring out how to handle the change. In order to maintain our status and rank in the world, we need to take action to ensure that the same quality of education and opportunities are awarded to minorities and women to address the lack of diversity in STEM.

According to the United States Department of Education, President Barack Obama is aware of the problem, and has set a goal of helping American students, “Move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” He has called on schools to recruit and train 100 thousand new STEM teachers. He formed the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to direct resources toward those goals, but ultimately it will be up to us. The government can only do so much to create interest in science and math and cannot tell us how to live our lives. Hopefully i-Trek and its mission to bridge the gap in STEM diversity is a step in the right direction.

Op Ed

By Lindsay Garten

The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA test, is administered to 15 year-old students around the world every three years to test their ability in math, science and reading. Although many might be led to believe that students in United States would do well on these tests, that simply is not the case.

Although the United States spends $15,171 per pupil, well above the OECD average of $9,131, one would not suspect this after looking at its PISA scores. In addition to spending the most per pupil, the U.S. also spends 7.3 percent of its GDP on education, while other OECD countries spend an average of 6.3 percent. In terms of higher education though, the United States leads the world with eight out of the top 10 best Universities. So it would only make sense for arguably the most powerful country in the world to do well on this test.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the OECD average on the mathematics section of the 2012 PISA exam, was 494 points, with the top scoring country, Shanghai-China, achieving a score of 613 points. Other top countries included Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and South Korea, with scores of 573, 561, 560 and 554 respectively. The United States however, scored a low 481, which means it ranks as the 36th best country. The results for the science literacy section of the test were similar, with the United States scoring 497, four points below the OECD average, coming in at 28th place.

So why does the country with this highest GDP per capita, that spends the most on education, and has some of best university’s in the world, do poorly on the PISA exam?

Jack Buckley, commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Washington Post in a 2013 article, that the United States’ diversity and high child poverty rate are contributing factors to the underperformance of students in the United States.

So what are some of the other factors? According to Anna Maria Chavez, the CEO of Girl Scouts USA, in a Huffington Post op-ed, there needs to be more of an emphasis on STEM education, especially among women.

“Younger girls express high levels of interest in STEM, but that interest tapers off as girls reach the middle school and early high school years, and girls are often discouraged by society, both actively and passively, from pursuing their interest in these fields,” she wrote in her op-ed. “By nurturing and encouraging girls' early interest in STEM and making it fun for them, we can keep them engaged, help them perform better in school and ultimately, encourage them to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

To further bolster Chavez’s point, in 37 out of 65 countries and economies, boys scored higher than girls, with girls outperforming boys in: Jordan, Qatar, Thailand, Malaysia and Iceland.

This should be a clear wake-up call to the United States that something has to change. Maybe it’s encouraging more women to get into STEM fields, better training for our teachers, or even further educational reform. We desperately need more people in science and technology jobs, as our climate is changing and the world becomes increasingly globalized. Something has to change and we need to jump on it before its too late.