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Teen Volunteers Support Online STEM Education Amid Pandemic

Over the summer, high school volunteers for the nonprofit organization HumanWho virtually taught 10 different subjects, including robotics, entrepreneurship, premed immersion, and other STEM subjects.

by Jeremy Hallock, The Dallas Morning News / October 27, 2020

(TNS) — The pandemic is no match for STEM-savvy teens. When nonprofit leaders Karthik Karuppiah, 17, and Ujjayi Pamidantam, 16, realized that their in-person activities would be suspended because of COVID-19, they quickly reassessed how they would spread their message.

The pair are leaders of the 2-year-old HumanWho, which aims to spread awareness of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Karuppiah, the organization’s chief operating officer and a senior at Coppell High School, and Pamidantam, a senior at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School in Somerset, N.J., organized a free virtual summer camp for nearly 1,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Four weeklong sessions were held in August via Zoom.

With eight existing chapters in North Texas and 30 globally, HumanWho would normally be spreading its message on social media and conducting workshops, meetings and competitions in high schools. But over the summer, high school volunteers for the nonprofit virtually taught 10 different subjects, including robotics, entrepreneurship and premed immersion, as well as computational math and digital art.

“We’re trying to start new chapters and spread STEM awareness all around the world,” Karuppiah says. “A lot of people go to these STEM camps over the summer. But this year, there were a lot of people who were in some type of financial situation, clearly stressful, or it wasn’t safe to attend in person.”

Ravi Lokula, mother of 10-year-old Sahasra, was pleased to have an option for summer learning. “With the pandemic, we didn’t have anything planned for the summer. She was just watching videos and playing video games, and I wanted a positive diversion. This was something she enjoyed. It was a win-win for us.”

Karuppiah says his passion for STEM education is rooted in practicality as well as interest. “STEM is just taking over every single field,” he says. “There is so much innovation. Not everyone’s going for a Ph.D., but it’s clear that you need some type of comprehensive knowledge in this field to really be successful in what you’re doing.”

He first started considering the importance of STEM awareness after meeting Pamidantam at an MIT entrepreneurship camp a couple of years ago.

“Coming from a charter-school background, I am very fortunate to have opportunities to pursue STEM. But there is a need for this in other communities as well,” says Pamidantam, who started HumanWho as CEO when she was 14. “Because I transferred from a public school in seventh grade, I was able to see that gap between being in a public-school environment vs. being in a very STEM-centric charter school.”

Two years into their partnership, Pamidantam says their group now has 500 volunteers within its chapters, ambassadors spreading their message on social media, and an advisory board. The organization is developing weekend virtual camps.

“We try creative methods,” Karuppiah says. “A lot of kids love artificial intelligence and creating digital art. For robotics, we have them create their own robot and tell us its application. It’s often something fun or quirky. We expand upon that and then teach them something they need to know about that robot.”

(c)2020 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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