Spokes America takes STEM learning outdoors


Bicycling 3,000 miles across the United States, Spokes America is back for a third consecutive summer of grueling cycling, fun campouts and engaging educational sessions.

Starting this week, the team of seven MIT and Harvard students set out from Washington D.C. on a mission to help foster STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) interest among middle and high school students.

 The Spokes America team leaves Washington, D.C. for their cross-country bike trip. Left to right: Simon Shuham,
Brian Wagner, Jorge Troncoso, Drew Bent, Shadi Fadaee, Francesca Childs and Tola Omilana.

The Spokes team — comprised of students studying physics, applied and theoretical math, computer science, mechanical and electrical engineering, economics and pre-medicine – will utilize their diverse background to demonstrate the endless possibilities a future in STEM can hold.

“Though my love of star gazing inspired me to study astrophysics, it was one of my middle school teachers who instilled my passion for science by showing me how science connects to everything around us,” said Francesca Childs, a student at Harvard. “I hope to provide the same kind of opportunities for students to fall in love with their own STEM passions this summer.”

Growing the talent pool of the next-generation of STEM workers begins with generating excitement among school-aged children. In order to spark STEM interest among students, the Spokes team will hold “Learning Festivals” at various locations on their route – including libraries, Makerspaces and science centers.

Each Learning Festival will reach 20-100 students, demonstrating the awe and fun of engineering with hands-on experiences. Students can participate in three workshops: intro to programming, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Each of these workshops focuses on using real world examples from students’ communities as problem-solving exercises.  

“It’s definitely important to foster students’ excitement for science and engineering at a younger age to sustain their passion,” said Francesca. “It’s also really important to build their confidence in these subjects because later on, when science and math become challenging, they need to have confidence in their abilities to stick with it.”

 Francesca Childs and Drew Bent teach seventh and eighth graders computer science at The Grammar School in Putney, Vermont.

The Spokes team is also assembling STEM workshops in rural areas with underserved students who may not have all the necessary resources required to develop an interest and passion for STEM subjects. Like Spokes, TI fosters the belief that diversity fuels innovation, and finding creative solutions to problems requires different perspectives.

“We believe in the power of students to direct their own learning,” said Drew Bent, an MIT student studying physics and electrical engineering. “Just as much as we want to share our love for the sciences and engineering, we want the students to discover their unbounded imagination and creativity.”

New this year, the Spokes team will also offer an Innovator Grant program to pair students from towns Spokes passes through with an MIT or Harvard student mentor. This endeavor will help sustain the knowledge and interest in STEM subjects well after the Spokes team has cycled away.

Follow the adventure of the Spokes team this summer at: spokesamerica15.tumblr.com

Learn more about TI's University program