(SOURCE: KID Museum)

Preparing the Next Generation of BioHealth Innovators

Guest Post by Cara Lesser, Founder and Executive Director, KID Museum
May 16, 2023

The Washington, DC region is known for politics, cherry blossoms and a thriving life sciences ecosystem; behind the scenes, an equally important asset is our innovation in STEM learning. You could see this innovation at work on a recent spring day at KID Museum in Bethesda. In a pilot program with Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, KID Museum educators were guiding third and fourth graders from DC Public Schools through workshops focused on biotinkering and cancer prevention.

Down the hall, Montgomery County middle school students were making prototypes to better the world by solving problems that confound adults. Past projects include home-based water desalination for coastal communities, next-generation vehicle fuel made from invasive plants, and drones that find lost pets.

These are some of the inventions that more than 2,000 students in our region envisioned this school year to answer the question: “What will you make to improve life on this planet?” Working in teams, the middle schoolers developed their prototypes as part of the Invent the Future challenge, a partnership between DC-area schools and KID Museum. 

Founded in 2014, KID Museum is a hub for hands-on learning that equips youth ages 4-18 with creative problem-solving and STEM skills. Our focus on maker learning furthers the BioHealth Capital Region’s objective to prepare the future workforce, and we do so in close collaboration with educators, businesses, and government partners.

When kids build it, they shine

Like the region’s thriving life sciences community, designing creative solutions to challenging problems is central to KID Museum’s work. We are introducing students to a variety of biohealth content at our makerspaces in Montgomery County and online, including the program with Georgetown cancer researchers and and DC schools. Kids, their teachers and families are also exploring pH to create art, investigating environmental biology to increase access to clean water, and experimenting with biological materials. 

Alongside activities that encourage kids to problem-solve, it’s helpful to introduce them to people who have solved problems – on the theory that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” One biohealth role model they’ll meet through KID Museum is college student Dasia Taylor. In high school, as part of the Regeneron Science Talent Search, Dasia discovered a problem (preventing infections in places lacking sophisticated medical technology) and experimented until she found a solution. Using beet juice, which changes color at around the same pH level of an infected wound, Dasia developed sutures that can help doctors identify active infections before they would otherwise be detected.  

Shared goals for growing the STEM talent pipeline

KID Museum and biohealth leaders have something else in common: We understand the urgency of investing in and building our region’s STEM talent pipeline. A report on Maryland life sciences from the Milken Institute highlights the strength of the state’s bio industry while citing the importance of developing and expanding its workforce. That pipeline starts in our region’s schools. 

KID Museum’s partnerships with schools begin at the elementary level, spanning middle school and high school, in multiple settings and contexts – in school, after school, during the summer and out-of-school time. We prioritize communities of color and populations that are often overlooked or left behind in STEM fields. More than 60% of our program participants identify as Black or Latino, and 50% are from under-resourced communities.

Through programs like Invent the Future, which has surfaced so many creative solutions to societal challenges, students build sustained engagement in STEM on the pathway to college and careers. More broadly, they develop what we at KID call the Mind of a Maker, learning to persevere, collaborate, and innovate – all skills deeply valued by employers in any field.

Collaboration is key to developing maker mindsets

For us adults, too, it takes a maker mindset and collaboration to develop future cell therapy scientists, vaccine developers, and clinical lab technicians, so we can propel the BioHealth Capital Region into one of the country’s top 3 biohealth clusters. Support from foundations, companies, individual donors, and government entities that believe in maker learning allows nonprofit partners such as KID Museum to offer high-quality programming to schools and reach a broad array of families in our region. 

Funding isn’t the only way to help, either. From judging middle schoolers’ Invent the Future projects to mentoring teen apprentices to supporting KID Museum programming through career talks and community engagement, there are abundant opportunities to advance our mutual goals of preparing our future workforce and inspiring kids of all backgrounds to pursue STEM. 

One such opportunity is coming up on June 3 at the Universities at Shady Grove: KID’s next Invent the Future celebration. Student teams will be showcasing their inventions and competing for prizes, and the BioHealth community can join them in hearing suture-inventor Dasia Taylor describe her journey as a maker. You will come away inspired by the creativity of our region’s young people – and get a heartening preview of your future workforce. 

To learn more about KID Museum and how you and/or your company can get involved in Invent the Future, email [email protected].