February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Latest in STEM: Teens Team Up With the FDA

The eager participants arrive in Washington, DC.

Participants in the aimHI Summer Incubator Program arrive in Washington, DC.

Busing tables and working at a day camp are fine summer activities, but they pale when compared to the six-week STEM adventure that a group of Maryland teens just experienced. Named aimHI Summer Incubator Program and guided by mentors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries (MCPL), more than 40 high school students participated in the development of medical apps and start-up companies.

The best part, however, probably wasn’t the Shark Tank-style presentation of ideas, although it appeared to be rather intense (they faced a four-person panel made up of doctors and CEOs). The high point may well have been the group’s visit to the White House, where they pitched their mobile applications to the Office of Science and Technology. “The students had a great time introducing their projects to policy advisors, answering questions, and demonstrating how much they accomplished,” reports Nathan Chadwick, the Long Branch (MD) Library manager who acted as the MCPL contact.

Excitement prevails as the students tour the White House.

AimHI participants tour the White House.

Three teams were formed, sporting names including Innovation Nation, Solution Revolution, and United Oakleys, with over 100 FDA staffers on hand to offer assistance. Brainstorming sessions were scheduled three days a week in three library locations, where students could take advantage of the available resources to build their apps. “They also used Google Hangouts to have interviews with local CEOs in the Washington, DC tech world and spent a day a week at the FDA working with their mentors,” Chadwick says. The last day was set aside for field trips to incubator labs and team-building exercises.

The apps, which were themed for teens and focused on medical issues, were nothing short of amazing. POTShub helps teens with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) monitor their sodium intake levels and connect with others who have the same disease; Connexone provides important resources to those suffering from addiction, including emergency services, needle exchanges, and support groups; and SportsAid provides first-aid help related to concussion tests and best practices for those working with teens in youth sports.

The students designed their own T-shirts.

The students designed their own T-shirts.

Chadwick shares the pride these kids felt as they presented their work and rubbed shoulders with Washington executives. He added that the program consists of mostly female and minority students, who are underrepresented in STEM education. “We watched these students go from zero coding knowledge to app development in a short amount of time, and this alone was a huge success,” he says.

For other libraries looking to replicate this kind of programming, the key to making it happen is the right partnering, Chadwick advises. The MCPL/FDA aimHI initiative was facilitated with federal and local agencies lending educational and tech help to the community. “We were able to utilize free resources in the building of applications, including MIT App Inventor, GitHub, Java toolkit, and Python coding language software, as well as FDA employees and other volunteers to teach the basics,” he says. The program requires dedicated planning and assistance from the community, he adds—and successfully connected a future generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Editor Jennifer Kelly Geddes, a mom of two in Manhattan, writes frequently for Highlights and Parents.com.


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