Y Full STEAM Ahead inspires teens

Courtesy of Rachel Basso
Mountain View High senior Ashwin Hingwe, left, works with Y Full STEAM Ahead participants.

Despite an abundance of cutting-edge technology a stone’s throw away, many Silicon Valley youth from low-income families have limited exposure to the inner workings of high-tech companies.

Underserved students may lack access to technology learning experiences and exposure to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) career opportunities. The absence of technology in the lives of underprivileged youth can hinder their exploration of their true potential.

On the other end of the spectrum, youth from high-income Silicon Valley communities are surrounded by STEAM education from a young age. With parents and role models in technology and engineering jobs, students are overloaded with opportunities to learn skills such as robotics and coding.

For six weeks this summer, the two groups are coming together. Teens are teaching teens the fundamentals of robotics and coding as part of the YMCA’s Full STEAM Ahead every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto Family YMCA.

Student and parent volunteers from Los Altos Botball Robotics bring equipment, expertise and enthusiasm to East Palo Alto teens. Program organizers said volunteering offers academically driven teens the chance to slow down, appreciate the opportunities they have and pay it forward.

Now in its second year, the peer-to-peer program aims to engage middle and high school students in a fun and accessible technology experience. The learning environment offers participants the opportunity to explore technology through robotics and coding, while volunteers develop leadership skills and experience the benefits of giving back.

According to Y Full STEAM Ahead representatives, reluctant participants have changed their minds with heavy doses of peer encouragement. Meera Srinivasan, a volunteer and senior at Homestead High School, said she is excited to inspire girls her own age to consider a STEAM career.

“Even if they’re not feeling confident in themselves, I’m fortunate to be in the position where I can build them up,” Srinivasan said. “I can help them and maybe push them further into STEAM than they thought they could ever go.”

Both participants and volunteers are learning life skills and building self-esteem. Volunteer Andy Wang, a junior at Gunn High School, said he sees so much potential in the teens new to robotics that he’s inspired to push himself in pursuit of his own potential.

“I really enjoy trying to teach someone,” said Ashwin Hingwe, senior at Mountain View High School. “I feel like this leadership experience is valuable because not only is it helping others, which is a goal for the rest of my life, but it’s also reinforcing for me the concepts that I’m teaching.”

In addition to gaining technology skills, Full STEAM Ahead participants receive access to a variety of wellness activities, including swim lessons, nutrition counseling and career exploration field trips.

“Although other programs offer coding or robotics, ours is the only one that offers everything,” said Loree Watanabe, who works at the YMCA. “It’s an outlet for youth during the summer. We’d rather have them here being interactive and engaged versus being home alone or playing video games all day.”

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Rachel Basso is the marketing communications manager for the YMCA of Silicon Valley.

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