MITRE + Partners + Robots Equals an Equation for STEM Inspiration
A typical workday for Brandon Keith, electronics engineer at MITRE, involves programming electronics devices and troubleshooting hardware issues. But he recently elected to instead spend a day in a high school classroom talking to 14 eighth to twelfth graders, most from underrepresented backgrounds, about careers in STEM. He also helped them assemble robotic prosthetic hands.
The students asked him about his job, MITRE, the courses he took in college, and the steps he took after high school to land a job in engineering. When he asked them to sum up their day in one word, they told him “challenging,” “fun,” and “memorable. “
“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to step away from work for a day to positively impact the community,” Keith says. “This event was personally meaningful because the robotics course I took in high school is what piqued my interest in STEM and encouraged me to enroll in an engineering program in college.
“I was happy to be in position to provide a similar experience for these students.”
MITRE sponsored the event for Boston Community Leadership Academy and New Mission High School. It took place on April 7, during National Robotics Week. Ten girls and four boys participated.
The event was held in partnership with MassRobotics and the Lexington Concord Chapter of AFCEA International. AFCEA—the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association—is an international professional association that connects people, ideas, and solutions.
MITRE’s Marissa McCoy, who works in cyber operations, serves as vice president for inclusion and diversity for the Lexington-Concord Chapter of AFCEA. She was also on the event planning committee.
When Strategic Partners Collaborate, Good Things Happen
“Being strategic partners with local organizations like MassRobotics and AFCEA—and having passionate employees who are also part of these organizations—you naturally become part of the fabric of the regional innovation ecosystem,” says David Moody, director of MITRE’s Bedford, Massachusetts, operations and strategic development.
“That means, if you put in the work, good things like this event happen naturally.”
MassRobotics provided the robotic hand kits, which included curriculum, hardware, and programming tools, to inspire students to pursue multiple projects. Students spent several hours building the actual hands and then programming it to perform simple tasks. Afterward, the kits were given to the schools for permanent use.
MITRE’s sponsorship allowed several teachers to be trained in using the kits so they can become an ongoing part of the curriculum. We sent three engineers—Keith, Ryan Jobson, and Deirdre Johnson—to speak with the kids (two in person and one virtually) and then help them as needed during the project assembly.
MITRE will also be awarding three scholarships (for $1,500, $1,000, and $500) to the students who can best answer the question: If you could go back in time, how would you use robotics to change an event in history?
A Chance to Bridge the Digital Gap
With predictions about an upcoming shortage in qualified STEM applicants to meet the high demand for jobs, MITRE may have an important role to play in nurturing future generations of talent.
“Part of our strategy and focus is to be one of the leading proponents in America’s STEM pipeline system,” says Jamar Owens, co-leader of MITRE’s STEM Council. “We’re doing that as an organization that’s heavily reliant on STEM, but also as an organization that understands the economic impact on certain communities should the digital gap continue to grow and leave behind many American communities.”
Owens and his STEM Council co-leader Michael Long attended the event virtually and were thrilled to see so many enthusiastic kids. One school principal said that the students were sad to see the day end—a reaction, the principal emphasized, that almost never happens with outside events.
“A STEM event like this really brings things full circle for me, because I have been in a lot of the same places as these kids,” Long says. “And to know that the STEM Council and MITRE can help provide that support and give them an opportunity to have an impact really epitomizes our goal of solving problems for a safer world—and a more just one.”
—by Twig Mowatt
Photos courtesy of MassRobotics
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