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Students Are Teachers at Urbana-STEMM

Come with us now to Urbana, a town in Maryland about 40 miles northeast of Washington, D.C.


You’ll find one of the most inspiring non-profit organizations we’ve ever run across. It’s called Urbana STEMM.


That’s not a typo. Yes, double M. The second M stands for “Mindfulness.” 


Science, Technology, Engineering, Math … and Mindfulness.


Stand by, we’ll come back to that.


U-STEMM, as it’s called, was founded by Amit Kumar, who is a Health Science Administrator at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Kumar enjoys community service—and that’s putting it mildly.


U-STEMM is 10 years old. It started as a couple of volunteer parents running basement tutoring sessions for students. Over time, the organization evolved with groups of children receiving advanced math and science instruction from Dr. Kumar.


The idea proved popular. Today, U-STEMM serves 350 students. The program supplements what’s being taught in school with weekend workshops on robotics, mathematics, and human anatomy (using the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System).


At the workshops, students become teachers when they reach high school, becoming mentors and tutors to those in elementary and middle school.


“It’s kind of a chain,” said Dr. Kumar.


Those involved in U-STEMM also work together on a wide variety of community service projects.


The key word is together.


We chatted recently with Dr. Kumar and four ninth-graders who are involved with U-STEMM on the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast.


The “community” idea came through loud a clear. Again, back to mindfulness.


The idea, said ninth-grader Arna Chakravarty, is to consider “not just our own individual achievements, but more of like a group … We like to work together and uplift society as a whole.”


The U-STEMM students recycle batteries, organize community clean-ups, run book drives, manage a community garden, and donate the crops to those in need. And they also run workshops at the local YMCA and library, teaching younger students in small groups. “We’re all like a close-knit community,” said Chakravarty.


All of this takes place after school and on the weekends. Last July, the group started working with Anatomy in Clay® Learning System models and in December the students led a workshop at the library “where we talked about the anatomy of the heart and how blood flows through the heart and we let the students build their own heart model out of clay,” said Hamsini Chintala. (All the students on the podcast are in ninth grade.)


Hamsini said the hands-on teaching was effective. “I think when … students learn the organ and then build it, they understand what the organ is instead of just like reading it in a textbook … It helps them retain knowledge when they're building the organ on the model.”


Rhea Ramesh, another fellow U-STEMM student, said she was “actually overwhelmed” by learning how much was going on “behind the scenes” of the human body.


We love that way of thinking about the human body—how much we take for granted for how our bodies function day in and day out.


Ritika Rajesh noticed something, too, as she showed her younger peers what she’d learned about human anatomy.  “They really show great passion for anatomy and the human body, which makes me happy because it makes me feel like more compelled to learn. Also … I became more confident at public speaking.”


Added Arna: “I think it's a really like important life skill to be able to explain a concept to someone. And so it helps with our communication skills, confidence, leadership for all of us. And we also just understand the information we're teaching more. And my favorite parts of it is like probably like. Connecting with the students like we form like friendships and relationships … it's very fulfilling personally.”


It's one thing to read the words. We highly recommend listening and watching to these students assert how the whole U-STEMM program has boosted their self-confidence and poise.


Not surprisingly (to us), all four of the U-STEMM students on the podcast said they had more interest in pursuing careers in the medical field. 


Dr. Kumar said he hopes the success of U-STEMM leads to the program’s growth and increased financial support for needed supplies and other expenses. (By the way, there are no paid staff at the organization.)


“So this is kind of growing slowly and I feel like, you know, people are liking this program,” said Dr. Kumar. “A lot of people are interested in STEMM because like, you know, it's a kind of future, right?”


Yes, it is. Particularly if it’s this kind of STEMM—with two M’s.







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