EXPLR Ignites Youth Passion for STEM with National Online Competition

Students of color from grades 6-12 are encouraged to apply for this first-ever STEM challenge. Deadline is Nov. 12.

STEM education, encompassing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is life — literally. Everyone from physicists to electricians and everyone in between utilizes it in some form or fashion. At its highest use, it can effect genuine, sustainable change in our communities by tackling the most critical issues of our time. 

That’s the message that EXPLR, a company that provides real-world, rigorous and relevant educational resources, is implementing through its inaugural National STEM Challenge and National STEM Festival

EXPLR invites individuals from grades 6-12 to participate in the National STEM Challenge, particularly students of color. 

“A lot of the issues we have in education is kids don’t see themselves, their perspectives, their stories, their lived history, or their lived experience reflected in that content,” said EXPLR Founder and CEO Jenny Buccos. “How do we invite kids to be part of that solution? How do we get kids to be participants in their education?”

EXPLR, founded by Buccos, “Mythbusters” host Kari Byron and Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame, aims to do just that: make STEM come alive for young people by showing them practical, meaningful ways it can be applied to everyday life in their communities.   

EXPLR Media Founder Jenny Buccos Speaks About the Initiative

In a recent interview with The Chicago Defender, Buccos emphasized that STEM and STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics — are integral to nearly every aspect of daily life, including careers like statisticians for sports teams and plumbers.

“STEM or STEAM underpins every element of our everyday life, from the mobile phone you use to the chair you’re sitting on. Somebody engineered that chair,” said Buccos, “And if we are looking at jobs and global competitiveness, 65% of jobs are underpinned by STEM in some way, shape or form. 

“And we’re not talking like lab coats, we’re talking like, statisticians for major sports teams, that’s a STEM job. Plumbers, that’s a STEM job, and one we desperately need more of.”

The fundamental goal of the National STEM Challenge and National STEM Festival is to have participants focus not only on learning but also on practical applications that can drive future job opportunities in a world increasingly reliant on technology and innovation.

6 Categories that Comprise the National STEM Challenge

The six categories of the National STEM Challenge are carefully selected to address crucial global issues. They are “Environmental Stewardship,” “Future Food,” “Health and Medicine,” “Powering the Planet,” “Space Innovation,” and “Tech for Good.”

“Environmental Stewardship” targets what Buccos calls the Greta Thunberg generation, the Swedish environmental activist once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at 16. 

“There are thousands of Greta Thunbergs in every community; they just haven’t been elevated,” said Buccos. “They haven’t been given the platform. They are in classrooms all across the country and all around the world. They just need that platform to have their voices heard, particularly in communities where people don’t necessarily think of environmental stewardship.” 

So, “Environmental Stewardship” is about encouraging students to take environmental action. “Future Food” challenges students to find sustainable and healthy food solutions. “Health and Medicine” allows students to tackle critical mental and medical health issues around cyberbullying, wellness, and addiction.

As for Tech for Good, Buccos adds that it’s a category that kids are already interested in via gaming and artificial intelligence. 

“Let’s give them a literal voice at the table,” said Buccos, “And let’s let them be change agents and solution makers now, not in 10 years, not in 20 years, but right now.”

Submitting to the National STEM Challenge and What Comes Next

The submission process is designed to be inclusive. Students can submit three pages in a PDF format, which can be text, graphics, sketches or drawings. No pictures, names or identifying information are allowed to avoid implicit biases. 

The submissions will be reviewed by about 3,000 volunteer reviewers with STEM careers, ensuring that students receive valuable feedback to stay engaged and encouraged, said Buccos. 

The top 12 projects from each state will be selected to participate in the National STEM Festival in Washington, D.C., in April 2024. The festival aims to represent the diverse voices and perspectives that make up the country.

Inspiring Creativity, Curiosity and Change

Beyond the festival, Buccos said the movement of getting students invested in STEM is rooted in inspiring creativity, curiosity and problem-solving skills. She said that having them cultivate STEM identities is essential, allowing students to see themselves as potential scientists or engineers, regardless of their backgrounds or experiences.

“So a STEM identity would be that I can see myself as a physicist. A lot of times, people say, ‘Well, I’m not a math person.’ Well, everybody’s a STEM person. How do we cultivate that?”

Moreover, Buccos underlined the importance of educators, families, and community leaders in bringing out the genius in every student, especially those who might not traditionally shine in the classroom. 

Ultimately, she says every voice and perspective is crucial in solving global challenges.

“Long term, how do we start to drive the national conversation on why STEM is important for workforce readiness, global competitiveness and civic engagement? She said.

“When you go into the voting booth, you need to be STEM literate. When you’re voting on things like public infrastructure, you’re voting on health bills, you’re voting on things that are tied to STEM every single day. So, how do we not just make this 48 hours in D.C.? But how do we really start to engage people in this conversation?”

For More Information on the inaugural National STEM Challenge and National STEM Festival

Submissions will be accepted between October 4 and November 12, 2023. More details about the National STEM Festival, including submission guidelines, can be found at www.nationalstemchallenge.com.

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