The Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab program is a combination laboratory, makerspace, and classroom, designed for middle school 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.
Michael Ecker is principal of the Calavera Hills Middle School, which focuses on STEM education. 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 the school.
How did you, your school, and your students become involved with Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab?
Ed Hidalgo invited my superintendent to the Lab; she brought me, a teacher, and another principal. At this meeting, the prospect of having our students attend the lab became so enticing. We were lucky enough to receive an invitation, and the experience became both part of what we were building at Calavera Hills, and also also motivation for what was possible.
Was the Thinkabit Lab a tough sell for any of your students, or were they enthusiastic from the beginning?
It was a bit hard to explain to students what they’d encounter. But their enthusiasm grew as a result of the experience. Many students have called it the greatest field trip! We have a pretty diverse group of students, and I saw equal interest across groups.
What did they enjoy most about the experience?
It’s hands-on, and it’s career-oriented. But I think what students like most is that it is creative. There were minimal instructions or parameters; design was at the heart of the work.
What kinds of changes did you see take place with your students over the time that they participated?
Students gained insight into themselves and career pathways that may speak to them. At the end of a single day, I had students from every aspect of our diverse school decide that they wanted to become engineers or work in a related field.
Have you seen increased interest in STEM classes among your students?
Absolutely! We made a decision to focus on STEM at Calavera Hills Middle School and to go with a three-year rollout plan that offered more and more STEM opportunities for students. In our first year, we already cannot meet the demand. What has excited our students, above and beyond strong instruction in math and science, has been working on what makes a STEM professional successful.
Do you have a student success story you'd like to share?
I sat in five transition meetings of students moving from Calavera Hills Middle School to Sage Creek High School. In these meetings, staff member from Sage Creek asked all the students what they want to do after high school. Four of the five students responded by saying that they want to be engineers. When I asked why, all four said it was because of their experience at the Thinkabit Lab, and that they had known very little about engineering before this experience.
What would your overall message be to educators and parents about Thinkabit Lab?
Many of our business leaders describe innovation as the single most important element to society in the 21st century. Are we providing enough opportunity for our students to practice this skill? The Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab is not just a one-day field trip; it is a motivation tool for schools to find ways to build design, creativity, and innovation into our curriculum, and it comes from one of America's most successful businesses. It is also important to note that the creative space is open to every child, and the success rates are nearly 100 percent. Let’s not keep our most engaging spaces on campus open only to select students. Our students will meet our expectations.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Calavera Hills Middle School is, by Carlsbad standards, a small middle school: We have only about 500 students, compared with other schools that have well over 1,000. We decided to stop trying to match other schools in elective offerings—instead, we aimed at naming a signature practice and doing this as well as we can. We still have a comprehensive school with many great electives, but we decided to focus on STEM education. Qualcomm has been a great partner as we build opportunities on campus for students to engage in robotics, engineering, biomed, and design. We are excited to be working toward the building of a maker space, and the Thinkabit Lab is a great model to build from. In fact, Ed Hidalgo has even shared the blueprints for the space. Qualcomm has helped to build a bright and exciting future at Calavera Hills Middle School and our community.