How This Former NASA Engineer Wants to Make STEM Youth Education More Accessible
Aisha Bowe had more potential in mathematics and engineering than she realized. She wants to help others make the same discovery.
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Before accidentally discovering her major, Aisha Bowe had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. But when she scored a perfect score on her math exam after a night out of partying, her professor saw something in her that she didn't see in herself: potential.
He told Bowe, "I really think that you should go home and think about doing something differently with your life."
Bowe started to do some deep thinking about the direction she was headed in with her life and had some profound realizations.
She realized that she had bought into certain stereotypes that made her think she was not good enough to do anything great with her life. This became her limiting story.
Bowe decided to write down the life she wanted to manifest for herself. Her game plan was clear: get into the University of Michigan, study aerospace engineering, and land a job at NASA.
She decided to transfer to the University from a community college. While finishing her degree at the University of Michigan, Bowe was offered her dream job with NASA. But, she declined because she didn't value herself or believe she was good enough to work at NASA.
A few weeks later, the director of NASA's engineering program, who offered her the job earlier, spoke with Bowe after a conference a few weeks later and told her, "After you finish your semester, you're going to come back and work for us."
And that's exactly what she decided to do.
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For the first couple of years Bowe worked at NASA, she visited local schools to share the mission that they were on to inspire students within the community. As she began visiting schools, she noticed something: Before she could get to the part of explaining NASA's mission, the students couldn't get past the fact that she was an aerospace engineer working for NASA because she didn't fit the narrative of a typical engineer.
Seeing how interested the kids were in engineering, Bowe created a shadow day for students so they could see what engineering was all about. The kids would get a full tour of the NASA facility so they could learn and be inspired.
She knew there was something powerful about exposing students to technology and began to ask herself, "How can I create a company that is not only sustainable but can help develop the technical skills of the people who work there while giving back to our communities?"
By 2013, Bowe and her business partner decided to take on their own engineering contracts from federal and private clients through their company, STEMboard, which meant her career at NASA had come to an end.
Bowe started taking a portion of the money she was making with her company to create educational programs for disadvantaged students.
In the last seven years, even without venture capitalist support, her company has evolved to include an educational department with a product line designed to inspire teens worldwide to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) regardless of their background or lack of resources.
Related: Have What it Takes to Go to Mars? NASA Is Now Recruiting New Astronauts.
Every year, Bowe and her team go to the Bahamas to educate about a hundred students on engineering and technology. While there, she noticed that most of the students had never been exposed to building basic hardware or technology, so Bowe decided to buy all the students building kits.
One of the students that Bowe will never forget was named Sal. He was a bright student who showed up every year for the workshop. Sal received the same building kit as the other students, but when Bowe returned the following year, she noticed his kit looked different.
He explained to Bowe how he was able to leverage the kit she bought him to win a science fair project. He ended up innovating the kit, building a laser pointer modification by scavenging extra parts from his community. There are no limits to the imagination.
Inspired by this testimony, Bowe told her team that they needed to refine the kit in a way where more people could access it at home. She wanted a kit that included video support, that was self-paced and that enabled a learner who didn't have academic support at home to learn about science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
Although thousands of students have benefited from the educational programs through her company STEMboard, her team felt that wasn't enough. Hyper-focused on bringing the joy of technology, science and engineering to youth everywhere, her team created Lingo, which offers those self-paced building kits.
Bowe is hyper-focused on scaling the Lingo platform so that it's more accessible for schools and educational programs. She is deeply passionate about bringing science and technology concepts to students around the globe from any socio-economic background.
She hopes to create a repeatable model that other companies can adopt so they can solve problems not only for their company but for the world.