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Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab Stormed by More than 30 Middle Schoolers

I recently sat in on a pilot session of Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab program along with 32 students from Roosevelt Middle School, and came away with a refreshing perspective on what today’s kids are all about.

Thinkabit is Qualcomm’s hands-on lab for students that want to tinker and invent. The lab was created to stimulate interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers—careers in which fewer and fewer U.S. students are pursuing compared to the rest of the world. The lab is scheduled to open later this year, according to Qualcomm Senior Director of Staffing, Ed Hidalgo, and this group of students is the third group of “test pilots” putting the lab and its staff through the paces.

“What students are doing here today is taking the classroom knowledge that they’ve been getting and putting it to practical use as well as gaining an understanding that learning has purpose and meaning. It’s not just learning for learning’s sake,” said Hidalgo, adding, “The thing about engineering, to them a lot of times it’s a textbook or a notebook, but when they get in here, it comes to life.”

One parent, who made the field trip with his son, commented that “Kids want to be challenged,” and that the Thinkabit Lab is a positive experience for all kids involved. 

And “a challenge” is exactly what this group got. Led by Qualcomm Career Development Specialist, Saura Naderi, the kids were given a quick overview on how to work with an Arduino board, notebook computer and a servo motor; shown a treasure trove of arts & crafts pieces; and told to create something.

Students are introduced to their lab computers, Arduino boards and servos at the beginning of class.

Only Qualcomm encourages you to scribble class notes on the table.

At that point, teams either did a quick planning huddle or bee lined it to the arts & crafts area to get parts and inspiration. Sara, who left her teammate Blanca at their workstation to fine-tune their servo, returned from the crafts area proclaiming, “I have an idea! I have a vision!”

Sara and Blanca’s workstation—full of ideas and vision.

Sara wasn’t the only one—for the next hour and half, the Thinkabit lab was buzzing with idea hatching, collaboration and fun.  

Jordan and Jacob assemble their creation while Qualcomm instructor Saura Naderi helps out Matthew and Mia in the background.

Axel double checks his connections.

Brenton and Luc making final adjustments at the glue gun table.

The day ended with each team presenting its final creation. There were some eye-openers, some hardware malfunctions, lots of laughs and a sense of accomplishment felt by all.

Axel and Manny present their invention.

Dianna, Lilith, and Elaina celebrate the completion of their project.

So yes, kids today are about video games, social media, and sarcastic remarks—they’re kids, you know, still looking for their place in the world. But meet a kid involved in a STEM program, and you’ll immediately see that they’re also about ambition, humor, enthusiasm, creativity and even graciousness:

A thank you note.

Let’s encourage more children to embrace STEM!

If you’re interested in learning more about STEM initiatives, I urge you to attend the STEAM Conference on Friday, March 28 at the Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall. Attending will be a broad range of attendees from a network of more than 750 students, teachers, administrators, nonprofits, business leaders and policymakers from southern California who are engaged in STEAM, which includes science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

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