We often talk about STEM (science technology engineering and math) education and how to get more students involved in programs that inspire them to go down the path of becoming an engineer or scientists. What we don’t talk about often is that many times the schools or teachers who are being tasked with growing STEM, really don’t have any background or basis to do so.
In my local community of Dallas we have a large group of Middle and High School FIRST robotics teams, one of the largest community makerspaces, an amazing startup community and even some of the biggest technology companies in the world, locally headquartered. This all adds up to an environment that you think would resonate down through our society to make things like making and tinkering as accepted as playing football. Unfortunately, like in many communities that just isn’t the case.
Just yesterday, student from a local High school was arrested for bringing in his home electronics clock project. You may have read about the story already as it has been spreading through the national news very quickly. The unfortunate side of things is that it is being approached from a racial perspective, because of the student’s ethnicity. It is very easy to make that leap and ask the question if all of this would have happened if he had a different skin color, but from my perspective this is a cultural and systemic problem much bigger than race.
My message in response to this story is not to attack the school, but we as makers need to help find ways to widen our reach into areas un-served. Things like Maker Faires and Robotics completions help to broaden the exposure but I consider those events “opt-in” where most people who attend, are already either interested in the community or part of it. The vast majority of the population is not actively seeking out these kinds of events and that is the real problem we need to solve.
I see this event as a good call to action, where we should be making sure that schools in our communities have the right support, and knowledge where they can avoid situations like this. Going into schools and volunteering is one of the easiest ways we can help. Programs like FIRST Robotics, and others are always looking for people to help out, and many schools don’t participate due mainly to lack of mentors. If you have the skills and a bit of time I urge you to get out there and help. The more people we can include in our culture, the better we will all be.
On a personal note if by chance Ahmed sees this, I am willing to help you out how ever you need. Want a tour of Dallas Makerspace, or a spot on a local robotics team, or some parts from REV Robotics, just let me know…. You are the future and don’t let what happened to you deter your ambitions in anyway.