What is the name of your organization?
The STEAM Connection
What is the name of your solution?
Super Sisters: STEM Superheroes
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
A free pocket sized learning tool for BIPOC middle school girls using representative superheroes, fusing augmented reality with applied technical education with culturally responsive and holistic gamified modules.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
When I look at STEM subjects, specifically my interest in computer science, I don’t see a lot of people like me. My name is Alexandra Villanueva. I am a first-generation Salvadoran, 14 years old, and am a girl. STEM learning resources are not created by people from my community, are hard to relate to, and often don’t focus on my mental health and wellbeing.
Technical education holds significant importance for BIPOC communities as it plays a crucial role in promoting self-determination, fostering opportunities in tech careers, and empowering individuals to find their voice. Unfortunately, our people face systemic barriers that limit our access to technological resources, making the need for technical education even more critical. Additionally, students also often feel uncomfortable pursuing STEM careers due to various reasons, including historical and ongoing marginalization, lack of representation, cultural barriers, and limited resources. These factors can contribute to a sense of exclusion and create a hostile environment for Indigenous individuals in STEM fields.
An overview of the disconnect:
- According to "Closing the STEM Gap" by Microsoft, girls are more likely to show interest in STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers when they have access to educational materials that feature relatable role models and highlight the relevance of STEM to their own lives. However, 64% of girls don't know a woman in STEM profession.
- The STEM workforce is 72% male (Society of Women Engineers).
- Only 33% of workers in STEM careers are non-white (Pew Research Center).
- STEM Divide: “STEM is not available to all learners” – The White House.
Given these challenges, technical education becomes a vital tool for empowering our communities. By providing access to culturally responsive technology, training, and resources, it helps bridge the digital divide and equips individuals with the skills needed to thrive now. Technical education also opens doors to career opportunities in the tech sector, where our voices and perspectives are often underrepresented. The lack of diverse perspectives hampers the progress of scientific research, limits innovation, and undermines efforts to address the unique challenges faced by our communities. It is essential to create inclusive and supportive environments in STEM education and workplaces, recognizing and valuing the contributions of our people. Moreover, technical education fosters self-determination by allowing our communities to assert control over our own technological development. It enables us to address specific needs and challenges we face, promoting community resilience and self-sufficiency.
What is your solution?
Our solution is a free pocket sized learning tool for BIPOC middle school girls using representative superheroes called "Super Sisters". By integrating augmented reality with applied technical education, the app offers immersive and culturally responsive learning experiences. Through the use of augmented reality technology, users can engage with interactive gamified modules encompassing robotics, language, culture, and more, all seamlessly blending into their real-world surroundings with a simple act of holding up their phone.
Our modules have lessons on how to introduce yourself in Indigenous languages, building robots virtually, stories of real women role models in STEM, traditional architecture, Indigenous plants, and so much more.
The app is guided by illustrated BIPOC women superheroes who reward users for learning. As users progress through the app, they are prompted to complete mental health exercises on subjects ranging from breathing exercises to culturally responsive ways of healing. This creates a holistic approach to STEM education that embraces the whole user.
The superheroes represent real BIPOC women scientists and technologists changing our world for the better.
Our resources are hosted on our The Make-A-Robot Virtual Learning Platform, full of culturally responsive educational resources geared towards Indigenous educators and youths with over 34k users. These resources accompany our award-winning robotics educational resources focused on Indigenous language revitalization and STEM learning. They focus on our student-driven learning goals focused on uplifting and centering Indigenous and overall BIPOC communities.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our solution primarily serves BIPOC middle school girls who are underrepresented in STEM and is led and guided by a first generation Salvadorian teen girl.
To understand the needs of our target population, our solution is designed by youth for youth. It is also women-led. This initiative is entirely youth-led and developed. We are a team of Indigenous and Chicano inventors, developers, and youths working to create solutions for our communities.
Our solution addresses the needs of BIPOC middle school girls by offering culturally responsive content and representation. The app showcases real relatable role models through illustrated BIPOC women scientists and engineers who serve as mentors, providing guidance and sharing their experiences. By incorporating mental health resources, such as breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises, we also prioritize the holistic well-being of the girls, empowering them to develop resilience and manage stress.
Through our solution, BIPOC middle school girls will have access to engaging and relevant educational materials, relatable role models, and mental health support. This will help bridge the representation gap in STEM, inspire their interest and confidence in pursuing STEM subjects, and equip them with the skills and knowledge needed for future success. Ultimately, our solution aims to empower and uplift the lives of BIPOC middle school girls, opening doors to opportunities and promoting diversity and inclusivity in the field of technology.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Hola! My name is Alexandra Villanueva. I am 14 years old and I am a first generation Salvadoran American. I love computer science, and I want to make STEM learning safe, holistic, and fun for girls like me.
Super Sisters: STEM Superheroes is a women and youth led solution focused on BIPOC middle school girls. This solution is created with The STEAM Connection and Lucid Skies, LLC as the team lead and youth ambassador. They are working to make technology accessible to underrepresented communities with culturally representative experiences, and I'm working with them to reach girls with STEM learning resources. Our unique collaboration allows us to create solutions targeted to young BIPOC girls.
My role is to lead this solution with the guidance and support of The STEAM Connection, their mentors, and my family.
The STEAM Connection team: The STEAM Connection is a 501(c)(3) charity creating equitable and innovative learning solutions for Indigenous youths with robots that they design, manufacture, and give away for free. They are a minority and youth-led charity that has reached 600k+ youths with technical education with an emphasis on language revitalization since 2019. The STEAM Connection focuses on the future: ushering in a new age of education via personal and wearable robotics, artificial intelligence systems, and augmented reality.
"Youth are at the forefront of our work, and many of our initiatives are student created and led. Our students are on the ground creating solutions that they resonate with to benefit our communities. All of our youth leads are BIPOC women and girls."-Danielle Boyer, Founder.
Their founder, Danielle Boyer, is a 22-year-old Ojibwe (Sault Tribe) robotics inventor and educator. She has years of experience in robotics design and creating solutions for her community. She is a two-time invitee of the White House for her work in mental health activism and STEM education.
The Lucid Skies team: Lucid Skies, LLC is a Chicano, family-owned, and youth led mixed reality design firm. They use augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence to empower and uplift communities.
"We are a team of artists and engineers envisioning the collective future of our people. Mixing creativity with technology, our mission is to bring mixed reality to communities that have been underrepresented. From the incredible architectural masterpieces of the Mesoamerican cities to the complex system of calendars that mapped the stars, our people have always created technologies that were works of art. We believe in the notion that we are not people who are merely consumers of technology, but we are actively combining our work ethic, wisdom, and intelligence to create our future." -Lucid Skies, LLC.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
In what city and state is your solution team headquartered?Troy, MI, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Pilot: An organization testing a product, service, or business model with a small number of users
How many people does your solution currently serve?
Since 2019, The STEAM Connection has served 800k+ youth, have 34k+ educators on the Make-A-Robot virtual learning platform, and work hands-on with hundreds of schools serving technical educational solutions.
Outside of these numbers, our augmented reality has had an extraordinary reach when presented to the public. In the past month, we have had 350k+ users, 88% of our users have been girls, 75% are girls ages 20 and younger. We are running a pilot program with our network partner schools and have released our beta solution on the learning platform - a free resource for educators.
Why are you applying to the Challenge?
We are new to the world of apps and need assistance with scale, team recruitment to build our our product offerings, and also want to conduct educational research on how culturally-based and representative STEM education can improve youths mental health.
Our experience as an organization that received the 2021 Indigenous Communities Fellowship was life changing for us and our founder, Danielle Boyer, and helped her meet an amazing network of Indigenous and BIPOC innovators who have become lifelong friends, collaborators, and role models. This app even features superhero depictions of real women Fellows! The funding, The Big Idea documentary, and connections helped people finally take our ideas seriously and helped us reach hundreds of thousands of more youths with accessible technical education. Personally, the coaching resources were invaluable to Danielle.
We want to share that experience with our students and present a student and teen-led solution. We believe that Alexandra would benefit in the support program, coaching, and networking with fellow BIPOC leaders and innovators.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
How is your Team Lead connected to the community or communities in which your project is based?
My parents left everything they knew, their family, their friends, and their lives when they left El Salvador. They were hungry, both figuratively and literally, in search of better lives for both themselves, the family they left, and the family they wanted to create. They wanted to push past the ceiling of poverty they were destined to live.
From crossing harsh deserts and dealing with dehydration to the loneliness of not knowing anyone in a foreign country they raised a family of 3 children with an intense work ethic and the strive to always seek opportunities even in the toughest situations.
Growing up in an El Salvadoran household with little regard for mental health and the pressures of an American society pressuring me to become a number with the highest grades and the most societally acceptable job. I've always been pushed to perform well, but I haven't always felt like I belonged in STEM. It isn't representative, I don't see a lot of role models (especially women), and there aren't a lot of people like me.
I wanted to create a resource that supports all of me: my interests, my culture, and my health. That is why working with The STEAM Connection and Lucid Skies LLC to create opportunities to better the lives of other girls like me means so much to me.
What makes your solution innovative?
- Our solution stands out as an innovative tool in education by harnessing the power of augmented reality (AR) technology. AR is a relatively new and untapped tool in the educational realm, and we are at the forefront of leveraging its potential to enhance learning experiences. Our app combines interactive modules with augmented reality technology, creating immersive and engaging learning experiences. This unique blend of technology and educational content offers a novel way for students to interact with and comprehend STEM concepts, fostering deeper understanding and long-term engagement.
- It addresses the lack of representation in applied technology education for BIPOC K-12 girls. By featuring relatable and diverse role models, we provide a fresh and inclusive approach that resonates with students who often lack representation in STEM fields.
- The integration of mental health practices within the app sets it apart. By promoting the holistic well-being of students, we go beyond traditional academic approaches, nurturing resilience, stress management, and problem-solving abilities.
- In terms of broader positive impacts, our solution can serve as a catalyst for change in the educational technology space. By showcasing the effectiveness of representative content, immersive learning experiences, and the integration of mental health practices, we encourage other developers and organizations to adopt similar approaches. This could lead to a more inclusive and diverse range of educational tools that cater to the needs of underrepresented students.
- Our solution has the potential to change the market by reshaping the perception and engagement of BIPOC girls in STEM subjects. As more students experience the benefits of our innovative approach, there is a likelihood of increased interest and participation in STEM fields among BIPOC girls. This, in turn, could contribute to closing the gender and racial gaps in STEM professions, leading to a more diverse and vibrant workforce in technology and related industries.
Overall, our solution's innovative features, potential for broader positive impacts, and ability to drive market change make it a powerful catalyst for empowering BIPOC girls in STEM education and reshaping the landscape of educational technology.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
Our impact goals for the next year and the next five years are as follows:
Increase Access and Engagement: In the next year, our goal is to reach and engage a significant number of BIPOC girls by expanding the availability of our app. We will achieve this by partnering with more schools, community organizations, and educational platforms to distribute and promote the app widely and take it public. Over the next five years, we aim to establish a strong user base, ensuring that a substantial proportion of BIPOC girls have access to our innovative educational solution.
Empowerment and Representation: Our goal is to empower BIPOC girls by providing them with relatable role models, immersive learning experiences, and culturally responsive content. In the next year, we will continue to collaborate with BIPOC women scientists and engineers to expand the mentorship component of the app, ensuring diverse and inspiring representation. Over the next five years, we aim to foster a sense of empowerment and self-confidence among the girls using our app, motivating them to pursue STEM fields and providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge for success.
Positive Well-being and Resilience: We aim to promote the holistic well-being of the girls by integrating more mental health practices within our app. In the next year, we will continue to refine and enhance the mental health resources, such as breathing exercises and mindfulness practices, to support the emotional and psychological well-being of the students. Over the next five years, we strive to equip the girls with essential resilience and stress-management skills, empowering them to navigate challenges and thrive both academically and personally, and want to partner with organizations such as We R Native to provide more representative resources.
To achieve these impact goals, we will employ a multi-faceted approach. This includes continuous refinement and enhancement of our app based on user feedback, expanding our network of partnerships, conducting research to assess the effectiveness of our solution, and actively advocating for systemic changes in education policies. Additionally, we will invest in ongoing technological advancements, such as improving AI capabilities and expanding the content library to cover a wide range of STEM subjects. Through these strategies, we aim to make significant strides in empowering BIPOC K-12 girls, fostering inclusivity, and transforming the educational landscape.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
To measure our progress towards our impact goals, we use the following indicators:
User Engagement and Reach: We track the number of users and who they are, active users, and user feedback to assess how many BIPOC girls are using and benefiting from our resources.
Educator Training and Feedback: We gather feedback from educators who use our resources and learning platform in classrooms to improve its usability and effectiveness in enhancing student engagement and learning.
Youth Surveys and Research: We conduct surveys with users to assess their experiences, attitudes towards STEM, and knowledge acquisition.
Youth Advisory Board: We have a board of Indigenous middle and high school students who provide insights and recommendations and guide the direction of our solutions.
Community: We are responsible to our community, the families we work with, our network of educators, our Elders and knowledge keepers, our youth, and our future ancestors. We hold ourselves accountable to Indigenous industry mentors to make progress and achieve our goals.
What we will implement:
Impact on Well-being: We are conducting surveys to understand how our app impacts the resilience and emotional well-being of users, comparing their well-being before and after using the app, but need to keep collecting more data.
By using these indicators and gathering feedback, we can track our progress, make data-informed improvements, and effectively empower BIPOC girls in STEM education.
Describe in simple terms how and why you expect your solution to have an impact on the problem.
According to the Child Mind Institute, "42% of kids have a phone by age 10. By age 12, its 71%." Kids are on their phones, their attention spans are shorter, and they often relate to the world through social media. When we conducted a survey with Indigenous middle and high school students on how they learn best, 82% mentioned the words "phone" or "social media". Creating a free immersive application that provides accurate representation, engaging exercises, and mental health resources for BIPOC youths to utilize in the classroom or at home will help us make STEM learning more approachable and fun. Our solution is designed to address the lack of representation and engagement in applied technology education for BIPOC girls. By providing relatable role models, personalized learning experiences, and integrating mental health practices, we aim to empower and inspire these girls to excel in STEM fields, fostering inclusivity and diversity in technology education.
If your solution is tech-based, describe the core technology that powers your solution.
The core technologies that power our mobile app are augmented reality (AR) and machine learning, specifically computer vision. These technologies work together to create an immersive and interactive learning experience for students.
Augmented reality is employed to enhance the app by overlaying digital objects onto the real-world environment captured through the camera of mobile devices. This enables students to visualize and interact with virtual objects in their own physical space. Unlike traditional static textbook learning, AR brings concepts to life and allows students to engage with technology in a more tangible and practical way. For example, they can see a virtual robot on their desk, drive it around, dismantle it, examine each component, and reassemble it. This real/digital world interaction facilitates a deeper understanding of complex concepts, and students can actively participate in simulated experiments and project-based modules. The use of augmented reality on modern mobile devices, similar to popular applications like TikTok and Instagram filters, enables seamless integration of virtual objects into the real world.
Machine learning, specifically computer vision, plays a crucial role in our app. It enables mobile devices to detect and recognize objects such as tables, floors, and people within the camera feed. This object detection capability allows for virtual objects to interact with the physical reality captured by the camera. For instance, our app can simulate physics-based scenarios where a robot needs to withstand a specific amount of force during a drop. As the student drives the virtual robot off their own table, the app utilizes machine learning to understand the height of the drop and identify the table and floor. This information is then used to provide an intuitive visualization of the forces at play, such as displaying arrows representing acceleration and velocity. Through these simulations, students can gain a practical understanding of the forces involved and witness the visual representation of these forces in action.
By harnessing the power of augmented reality and machine learning, our app enables students to have a more engaging and experiential learning journey. They can visualize, manipulate, and interact with technology concepts in a way that goes beyond passive reading or memorization. The combination of these technologies fosters a deeper understanding of applied technology principles, enhances critical thinking skills, and encourages creativity and exploration.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new application of an existing technology
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
In which US states does your solution currently operate?
In which US states will your solution be operating within the next year?
If your solution operates outside of the US, in which countries does it operate?
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
The people working on this specific solution:
The STEAM Connection:
- Staff: 6
- Teen Leads: 2
- Staff: 2
How long have you been working on your solution?
We have been working on this solution for one year.
What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?
Our leadership team embodies this commitment as our charity is led by a diverse group of accomplished women, youth, and Indigenous individuals who bring a wealth of perspectives and experiences. We strive for ongoing growth in our team's diversity, equity, and inclusivity, aiming to create a space that reflects the communities we serve.
To achieve our goals, we have taken deliberate actions to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our collaboration with Chicano and youth-led design firm Lucid Skies enhances our capacity to engage with our communities more in depth. Our solution is guided by a driven Salvadorian first-generation teen girl who contributes her unique insights, hard work, and goals. These steps enable us to authentically understand and address the needs of our communities.
Our approach to DEI is a foundational principle that guides our decision-making and ensures that our solutions are culturally responsive and relevant. We create safe, fun, and inclusive spaces for our team, our youth, and our communities. We are committed to continuously learning, improving, and creating environments where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued.
What is your business model?
Currently, all of our solutions are offered for free to youth and educators through corporate sponsorships or through direct funding from educational institutions or organizations. We provide our resources on our virtual learning platform that hosts curriculum, resources, and how to make your own robots. Educational institutions pay for the materials they use or need help with, but the resources always go to the kids for free. The development of this solution has been funded by grants specific to creating mental health solutions.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
Our plan to generate revenue to help us continue our work:
Grants and Funding: Seek grants and funding opportunities from foundations, government agencies, and impact-focused organizations that support educational initiatives, diversity in STEM, and mental health. We would like to bring in sponsors to help us conduct research. This can provide essential financial resources to sustain and expand our operations.
Customization and Consultation: Offer customized versions of the app or consultation services to educational institutions, community organizations, or businesses interested in implementing similar initiatives. This can involve tailoring the app to specific needs and providing training and support.
Data Analytics and Insights: Utilize anonymized and aggregated user data to generate valuable insights and analytics. Offer these insights to educational institutions, researchers, or policymakers to inform decision-making and contribute to the broader understanding of educational and mental health trends. This would be heavily monitored in favor of ethical data collection, data sovereignty, not providing access closed knowledge, and protecting youth. We aren't currently doing this, but would focus on overall trends on youth use of technology.