Pandemic leads to STEM NOLA going global


For curious kids around the world, a silver lining on the cloud of COVID-19

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New Orleans – Thousands of students from around the world are learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM for short) from a busy studio in New Orleans.

Calvin Mackie is the president and CEO of STEM NOLA, an organization dedicated to promoting STEM learning. He gave WGNO’s Stephanie Oswald a tour of the company, including the brand new studio, and a shipping room where countless boxes are being assembled for delivery around the planet.

“When the Hard Rock Hotel fell, it took us 30 days to come up with a structural modular,” recalls Mackie, while holding in his hand an example of the working Ferris wheel project that his team created after the collapse.

“We believe STEM should be culturally and environmentally relevant but also, STEM is about doing. It’s about taking an idea in your head, understanding the theory and being able to produce something,” says Mackie.

In a normal year, kids learn in a group setting with constant hands-on experimentation. But this is 2020, so the hands-on learning is being sent home.

It took six weeks for STEM NOLA to do what Mackie calls “the COVID pivot.”

Programming was moved online so that kids could learn virtually, and that meant home classrooms could be across town, or across the planet. Project kits are being shipped out non-stop; inside each cardboard box are the parts needed for a STEM project linked to the online lessons.

“We’re in 34 states and four countries,” says Mackie. There’s a group of students who join from Ghana. Others participate from Mexico, the Bahamas and the United Kingdom.

A $100,000 grant from AT&T enabled STEM NOLA to build a state-of-the-art studio where lessons focus on topics such as energy, friction and robotics.

“COVID is a reset and now we won’t stop. From this point on we’ll do blended programming,” says Mackie.

The donation from AT&T was part of a ten million dollar initiative to engage families during COVID-19.

Note: This story first ran on WGNO on Friday, September 18, 2020.

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