About the STEMgineers Project
In 2017, Design for America – Alabama underwent some serious revision. Essentially creating a new organization from the ground up, there were a million directions and opportunities for the organization to take. Founder Omer Bensaadon spent his summer driving back and forth between Tuscaloosa and Aliceville, AL, seeking out a project that a set of creative minds would thrive on.
After many discovery meetings, Omer eventually met Coach Thomas, who would soon become one of DFA’s strongest resources. A plan of action for the Empathy stage of Design Thinking was formed, and a new studio was on boarded that fall semester. A scrappy group of innovators set out on weekly trips to Aliceville Elementary, spending a few hours once a week mentoring and tutoring students of Aliceville in the STARS program. It did not take long for the students to capture the hearts of the DFA’ers going each week, and determination in creating a project for the students grew.
After a semester of empathizing and volunteering once a week, the organization sat down and looked at the information we had gathered. We identified nutrition as an issue that Aliceville students faced, and our research showed us that Project-Based Learning is one of the best ways to accommodate all learning styles. The students were also in need of more help in math and science subjects specifically. After many meetings and intense ideation sessions, STEMgineers was born. It was decided that we would construct a hydroponic garden to expose the students to a new type of gardening, and we set out to make the garden a sustainable option for later replication of the program year-round. Our plan was to build a hydroponic stand on which to grow tomato and basil. We wanted the students to be able to use the vegetables they had grown at the end of the semester to make their own pizzas for their very own Harvest Festival.
Teaming up with Aliceville Elementary, along with the support of many educators and financial backers behind us due to a wildly successful GoFundMe campaign, we launched STEMgineers in January 2018. Revision was constantly being made as the project’s impact was tested week to week. Withstanding snow days and scheduling, the first STEMgineers session was completed in April 2018. We had a successful Harvest Festival with a lot of yummy pizza and happy students. The program is planned to be continued at Aliceville Elementary through a different University of Alabama organization, details to come, and the curriculum is online and able to be replicated at other elementary schools no matter the location. This first year and project was one of growth and learning for DFA. Through it, our team was elevated to a new level of problem solving, community partnerships were made, and our organization was able to prove to both ourselves and everyone else that success was possible. Plans for the next projects are currently underway.