STEMIE East to West

May 30, 2018

As the STEMIE Coalition continues to spread throughout the country, we’d like to focus on a pair of our member organizations – about as far apart from one another as they can be – who did some great things this year.
We’ll start in the East, speaking with Tracy Zuluaga from the Florida Invention Convention and then follow the setting sun to the far Northwest, with Kristin Lehman from Invent Washington.
Florida Invention Convention
This was the first year for the Florida Invention Convention, who just completed their inaugural convention in May 2018.
What was the year like?
Bright Young Minds launched STEMIE for the 2017 – 2018 school year in Central West Florida. Florida did not have a curriculum program, professional development, tools or resources to support invention education.  Teachers were flying solo and sourcing materials on their own and often paying out-of-pocket.  There were some localized competitions, but nothing compared to the resources we and STEMIE were able to provide.
What were some highlights of the year?
Being “year one” everything was a highlight! From the first school district saying, “Yes, please sign us up”, to the first school registering, first Professional Development Workshop and first teacher reaching out for classroom support – it was all exciting.
What impressed us the most was the passion of the teachers and STEM coordinators who often take time to offer invention education as an afterschool club or activity.  We met some wonderful educators — who do it purely for the passion of teaching kids STEM and the invention process.
What was your biggest success?
Partnering with United Technologies (UTC) for the first Florida Invention Convention. With “year one” under our belt we have a blueprint for future years, as we expand across the state of Florida and into Puerto Rico. We have ten kids headed to NICEE this year, including an alum who has become a serial inventor and who is headed back for her second conference.
What are you looking forward to in the new year?
We are hoping to have 10,000 Florida students participating in invention education, and with the help of UTC we will be reaching school districts in South Florida. At the same time, we’re looking to stabilize our organization and funding so that we’re ready for the expansion we anticipate.
How about some of your favorite inventions?
One of our favorites is called “Bear of my heart”. Our inventor designed it for refugees, it’s a teddy bear to provide comfort while at the same time offering GPS tracking and safety tools.  Another inventor came up with a conceptual design for a neurolinguistics transmitter to help non-verbal kids (and adults) communicate.  Finally, another favorite was an air chair – perfect for keeping parents cool on the sidelines of their kids’ baseball and soccer games.
Invent Washington
This was the fifth year of Invent Washington, and the first year that they’ve held a state-wide invention convention, moving from the East to West.
What was the year like?
It was a year of rapid expansion for Invent Washington. This was the fifth year running an Invention Convention program in Washington state, but the first time we were able to do so all the way across the state. For the past four years we focused on establishing a program in Eastern Washington. Just this year, through a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we expanded to Western Washington. In doing so, we were really able to double in size, both in terms of number of schools and number of kids involved in our programs
What were some highlights of the year?
This year, we had almost 400 kids from across the state participate in our conventions. They were evenly split demographically, with a bit above 50% of the participants female – which we’re very proud of. We doubled the number of schools involved in our program. We also trained somewhere between 300 and 400 new teachers in six different training sessions, on top of all the teachers trained in previous years. Furthermore, we had a lot of kids who got involved in school-level invention curricula, but who haven’t yetcome to competition. We’re looking forward to seeing them in future years.
Additionally, we have thirty kids headed to nationals this year (you can see a number of them on our website), compared to two last year. It was just a huge step up.
What was your biggest success?
Definitely having the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation come aboard as a sponsor this year. That made a huge impact for us, and for the kids of Washington, taking our organization state-wide.  We just held our first state-wide Invention Convention (WA iCon), and it was a great success, with over 400 kids from across the state showing off their inventions. This year we were able to hold both Eastern Washington regionals and a state-wide convention for kids from both parts of the state. We want every kid to have these opportunities, and we made a huge step towards getting there this year.
What are you looking forward to in the new year?
Our focus for this coming year is growing in a sustainable way. As much as we’ve exploded this year, we need to take a breath and stabilize a little bit, so we can more fully flesh out our organization in order to provide ongoing support to teachers.  After a year of astronomical growth, we want to make sure that organization is in place to keep growing and to keep supporting the schools and students who are already part of the program. We want every kid in the state to have the opportunity to get involved in the STEMIE process.
How about some of your favorite inventions?
We had a lot of great kids with autism-related inventions this year. One boy, using his own autism experience as a guideline, designed a chair to help with his sensory needs. Similarly, a girl designed a blanket with much the same purpose. And yet another girl invented headset protective ear covers for her autistic siblings. On top of that, some of our second graders really blew us away with their inventions (like one boy’s ocean floor cleaning device). They’re not eligible to travel to the national convention this year, but we’re really looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!

INVENTING THEIR FUTURE

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