Aug 22, 2023 - Education

Qualcomm enhances STEM education with "Thinkabit Labs" in San Diego

Two middle school students present their wearable technology invention at a Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab camp in Vista. Photo: Courtesy of Qualcomm

Hundreds of middle schoolers across San Diego County get an education in engineering and craft wearable inventions each year through a program Qualcomm expanded from its headquarters into local schools.

Why it matters: The free school program aims to bring more girls, students of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds into science, technology, engineering and math fields.

How it works: Since 2015, Qualcomm has trained teachers to offer instruction, provided hardware kits and funded its Thinkabit Labs program at several elementary and middle schools in the county.

  • The program is specially designed for each school, ranging from classes every day for one week to semester-long courses. But each designates an existing classroom or lab space to be outfitted with equipment and materials.
  • Students get schooled on the engineering design process, build prototypes to pitch as if they're applying for a patent and hear from professionals about potential STEM careers.

Zoom in: San Diego's Lewis Middle School and Morse High School, Feaster Charter School in Chula Vista and Vista Innovation and Design Academy run Thinkabit programs.

By the numbers: In 2021, women made up 51% of the U.S. population and 35% of STEM workers, according to the most recent report by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

  • Hispanic, Black and American Indian or Alaska Native people together made up 37% of the nationwide population and 24% of the STEM workforce as of 2021.
  • Women and people of color in STEM careers also had lower median earnings than their white, male counterparts in 2020.

What they're saying: "The biggest impact is showing students that they have the ability to be an engineer and to be an inventor, especially when we’re thinking about underserved populations," said Ama Debrah, a senior government affairs analyst at Qualcomm who works with the labs.

  • It also builds a pipeline of diverse future inventors and long-term, a local workforce for Qualcomm to tap into.

Zoom out: Qualcomm collaborates with 24 educational organizations, including school districts and universities, across nine states to implement the Thinkabit program.

  • More than 100,000 kids have gone through the program since 2014.

Of note: Teachers and parents interested in bringing this program to their school or home can purchase a hardware kit and access free online resources to guide the hands-on engineering activities, including wiring and writing code.

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