STEM Next Strategy in Action: Young People Talk about STEM at Boys & Girls Clubs

 May 9, 2017

STEM Next aims to make STEM come alive for young people, so they can discover their interests and passions and gain valuable skills for the future.

One key strategy for STEM Next is to leverage existing systems, for example, we invest in the capacity of national youth organizations to offer high-quality, hands-on STEM experiences after school. STEM Next supports Imagine Science, a collaboration among the National 4-H Council, Girls, Inc., YMCA of the USA and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to bring STEM to the 18 million youth they collectively serve each year.

In addition, STEM Next and the Noyce Foundation have supported Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s STEM initiative and other efforts to develop quality STEM programming at their 4,000 Clubs nationwide.

Recently we looked in on one Club to get a sense for how engaging in STEM activities there impacts young people. The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster (Massachusetts) has been building its portfolio of STEM programs since 2009. Currently, young people participate in:

  • Computer science – app and game development
  • Environmental education projects, including raising trout, beekeeping, and producing maple syrup
  • Robotics through FIRST and other robotic competitions
  • Chemistry through cooking
  • Engineering, physics and machines

BGCA Fitchburgg & Leominster, First Robotics Winning Team

We asked the young people what participating in STEM means to them. Their answers validate our belief that high-quality STEM learning equips young people with key skills and capacities to succeed in life – no matter their chosen path. Listen to what they told us:

Hazel, age 10: “Robotics is really fun because we get to think of an idea, test it out. At first our ideas don’t work and we keep playing around with them until they do. We learn to work together and not just to have one person do everything. And we also learn to take our time and be patient because it’s not always going to work on the first try.”

Dean, age 12: “First we have to work together. We need to be good communicators. We learn how to trust people. We work together to code and each of us also built a part of the robot. I was a bit nervous but we have done pretty well!

Jonathan, age 15: “I have learned basic programming and how to design an app. The more I use the program, the more I teach myself. It’s a long process if you want your app to be really good and you want people to enjoy it and recommend it to others. You can’t rush it – you have to think, go over it many times. You also need an outside view. You might think one thing but when you have people test it they see it differently and can give you good suggestions. There are so many steps to making a good app or game. We sit down and come up with a topic. We brainstorm, make a prototype, add more details and plan it out. Our game cheers people up and teaches them math, science and history at the same time. We all got together to present our apps in front of judges who are professionals from our community. The judges gave us advice about improving our apps and we have done it.”

Eric, age 15: “This is not just about building a robot, it’s about life lessons – working on a team, being able to problem solve. We brainstorm in the first week…we learn how to argue with each other – it’s good for the end result. It’s hectic and tense, but if you are challenged to defend your idea, it gets better.

Olivia, age 18: “Being a member of the robotics team helped me realize that I am interested in how different mechanisms go together and how things function. So it’s shaped my career goals. Now I am going to be a biomedical engineer and create better prosthetics.”


Boys & Girls Club director, Donata Martin, noted that since she assumed leadership of the Club, her vision has centered around STEM. “Kids love science, and they don’t have enough time during the school day to explore it. But they have all those hours in the afternoon. We start out with homework and snack, and then it’s off to programs.” Martin offers five key lessons for other after-school programs exploring STEM:

  1. Ask the young people what they are interested in. Start out simple. There is so much you can do right around you. For example, we tapped our maple trees and made syrup – and in doing that, we talked about local folklore and history.”
  2. Partner with the business community. They are interested in what we do because we are developing the workforce for the future. Let them know what you are doing, bring in volunteers to teach, and have your staff work with the volunteers and learn alongside the youth.
  3. Ask the staff and invest in their professional development. We are always asking our staff what they are interested in and sending them to trainings that they want to go to – they come back eager to roll out programs. For example, now we are beekeeping! We’ve extracted 75 pounds of honey. Like the kids, we make mistakes, and then we learn and try again.
  4. Take the kids into the community on field trips so they can see what kinds of careers are there. Find them internships in their fields of interest, expose them to new experiences that broaden their horizons.”

BGCA Fitchburg & Leominster, Youth beekeepers

We are looking forward to keeping up with this Club as they continue to develop the next generation of our STEM innovators. For more about the Boys & Girls Club of America STEM program, click here.


Author: Kathleen Traphagen


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