The Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab is a combination laboratory, makerspace, and classroom, designed for students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. We work closely with their teachers and administrators to give students from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds a chance to learn about STEM careers and the World of Work that exists at Qualcomm, and to participate in actual engineering projects.
Dr. Eric Chagala is the founding principal of the Vista Innovation and Design Academy, a 6th-to-8th-grade California magnet school focused on the Design Thinking Process. Some of his students participated in the Thinkabit Lab program, and we asked him to share his thoughts on the impact Thinkabit has had on both students and faculty.
How did your school and students hear about and become involved with Thinkabit Lab?
EC: Our superintendent, Devin Vodicka, got connected with Ed Hidalgo and Thinkabit Lab the previous year. The opportunity then came to us as a new magnet school focused on design: the intersection where arts, science, and engineering meet. The participating students from our school were primarily in the 6th grade. We did also send one mixed-grade class for our ELD students—students who do not yet speak English proficiently.
Was it a tough sell for any of your students, or were they enthusiastic from the beginning?
EC: All of our families were enthusiastic from the beginning! What a blessing of an opportunity!
What kinds of changes did you see take place with your students over the time that they participated?
EC: We saw two main changes: The enrollment of girls in robotics [classes] went way up! In addition, kids without family members who attended college were deeply touched by the World of Work [a classroom where visiting students are exposed to the types of careers that exists at Qualcomm] .
What did they enjoy most about the experience?
EC: The opportunity for our students to get out of their neighborhoods, to see real industry, and to see work in action was powerful. Education often fails at this connection. Kids need to see and feel it all.
Have you seen increased interest in STEM classes among your students?
EC: Initially we had only four girls enrolled in our robotics course. By the second semester, that number had grown to 12—and there are only 30 seats! It’s a big deal to see them breaking through the gender roles. And for our Latino students, going through World of Work was really life-changing. A lot of their families do landscaping or work in fast food or other service-type things, where if you don't show up for work, you don't get paid. They don't have this concept of career, and salary, and pension, and retirement.
Do you have a particular student success story you'd like to share?
EC: One of our students said, "Ever since I got into school, everyone's been telling me that I needed to go to college and I never understood why. But now I understand why and I want to go." The change that we've seen with him, in his grades, and his effort on campus, and his classes have been huge.
What would your overall message be to educators and parents about Thinkabit Lab?
EC: The Thinkabit Lab is what we should be doing in schools. The experience is what is right—a corporation taking a chance on an idea, and it is the exact right idea. If we could duplicate this experience over and over again, the future of our economy and future lives for students will be improved.
Kids—especially at schools like ours—cannot afford summer camps, makerspaces, and other experiences. This is the single experience many students of poverty throughout the county will have with something like this.
Qualcomm is a sponsor at the U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference, which takes place in San Diego from June 29 to July 1. Qualcomm's Ed Hidalgo, senior director of staffing; Saura Naderi, staff career development specialist; and Dan Sullivan, executive vice president and senior advisor, will all be speaking at the conference.