WYSE outreach brings STEM home


Kimberly Belser

The Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering program (WYSE) is working with organizations around Illinois to bring engineering kits to students with limited access to online services. 
Lara Hebert, WYSE Outreach and Public Engagement Coordinator, said the organization partnered with community organizations to provide STEM activities to elementary, middle school and high school students in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago. 

Lara Hebert and the outreach staff prepare STEM kits.
Lara Hebert and the outreach staff prepare STEM kits.

Hebert said that as stay-at-home orders began, she knew online access would be difficult for some students, with challenges such as having access to a device not being used by the rest of the family, or to reliable internet that does not charge “an arm and a leg” for data. 
“All those sorts of things make for really inequitable experiences”, she said. “And as we were communicating with our community partners and asking what they needed and what they were concerned about and what they were worried about for their families that they work with, this was the sort of thing we were hearing. 
You're hearing stories of students who, even though the school was providing the computer, the phone that provided the hotspot had to leave with dad to go to work during the day, so there was no way for them to be online until dad got home.” 
STEM kits ready to send to students.
STEM kits ready to send to students.

WYSE partnered with multiple organizations for the kits, including Cena y Ciencias, the DREAAM House Organization in Champaign, the University of Chicago’s Pre-College Science and Engineering program and more. The kits contain curriculum tied to subjects including wind power and energy, nanotechnology, and physics, where students complete activities such as collecting and graphing data. 
Hebert said this curriculum is currently “in the queue,” but it's a challenge to gather all of the required materials. WYSE found that they needed to rework many of the documents that are part of the kits, to make them more understandable for elementary school students and to translate documents into Spanish for the Cena y Ciencias students. 
“I hope that students have fun,” Hebert said. “They don't have to sit in front of a computer all the time to learn something new. They're going to be doing some making and will be able to do some design and experimentation. Just by practicing those scientific and mathematical skills, by using project based materials, they're taking an interest in STEM and hopefully they’ll keep running with it.”