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  • Writer's pictureAmy L. Sullivan

Strong Girls Can: Use STEM to Make a Difference

Carson Ellis, Corbyn Player, and McKenzie Smith may look like your average rising seventh grade girls, but look closer.

Service Learning Challenge 2

Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland School District Five

These three girls are holding prosthetic hands, hands they used a 3-D printer to create, hands they plan to give away, hands which have sparked the girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Belk Service Learning Challenge and Team Prosthetic Kids

Under the guidance of their teacher, Dr. Christopher Craft, these three students from Lexington-Richland School District Five’s CrossRoads Middle School in South Carolina, entered and won the 2015 Belk Service Learning Challenge.

The Belk Service Learning Challenge encourages middle school students to work in teams with the help of a teacher to identify issues in local communities and design an action plan to create a solution.

For their project, Ellis, Player, and Smith, also known as team Prosthetic Kids, used 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands. Seeing a need for prosthetic hands, team Prosthetic Kids discovered an organization, Enabling The Future, which connects those who have access to 3-D printers to those in need of prosthetic hands. Using a 3-D printer the school acquired through a grant, Dr. Craft and his students printed a prosthetic hand for a middle school girl in the Charleston area last fall. Since then, Dr. Craft and the three girls have printed more prosthetic hands and even held a school-wide “Hand-A-Thon.”

Grand prize of the Belk Service Learning Challenge included $2,000 in prize money and an additional $5,000 to cover the purchase of additional 3-D printers.

Service Learning Challenge3

Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland School Distric Five

Creating a prosthetic hand, must be extremely difficult, right? Not according to student, Corbyn Player.

“First, you have to make the 3-D design on the computer. Next, you send it to the printer, which will heat up the filament and will start printing the hand pieces.”

But these girls must have been involved in STEM related classes for years, right?

“I actually had no experience before Dr. Craft’s STEM class, but once I got to know STEM, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” shared Ellis.

Surely this experience and contest were something nice to do for others and an engaging class project, but now the girls can get back to activities which really interest them, right?

Not a chance.

Player is contemplating being an engineer or STEM teacher. Smith wants to study biology and make prosthetics for animals, and Ellis hopes to find a way to mix marine biology and STEM.

Technology for Good

The story of team Prosthetic Kids shoots a giant hole in the theory that kids today are a self-absorbed bunch who are only interested in Snapchat, selfies, and the ellaborate additions being made to their Mindcraft designs.

“In my daily work with students, I am constantly reminded of the immense power of technology to do good,” states Dr. Christopher Craft.

Dr. Craft goes on to say, “If we are striving to raise children focused on others, technology can serve as a powerful catalyst to improve our world. My students are a daily example of the possibilities. As a father, I am working to help my daughters see that they have the potential to help solve the very real problems they see in daily life. It is an exciting time to be alive, and our children’s power to change the world is unprecedented.”

Help girls grow in STEM

As parents, we know STEM is important, but what are practical ways we can grow that interest?

Dr. Craft encourages parents to learn a basic understanding of STEM, and then further support interest by searching out ways for students to get involved in STEM, both through the local school and in the community.

Resources Dr. Craft recommends are as follows:

  1. Maker Faire. These maker festivals show-off human creativity and ingenuity.

  2. Super Awesome Sylvia. This young lady produces a web show focusing on maker projects that anyone can do.

  3. Adafruit. Started by a female engineer, this is where Dr. Craft buys his parts. They also have an amazing learning site with loads of tutorials on topics such as wearable technology, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and much more.

Advice to other girls

My daughter’s middle school offers both an introduction to STEM class and a robotics class, but instead of enrolling in either, my girl signed-up for the career technical classes. I badgered her to change her schedule. She refused. I badgered more. She rolled her eyes.

Then something changed. My daughter learned about Prosthetic Kids. My girl saw other tweens who wore braids, braces, polka dot skirts, AND who were delving headfirst into STEM.

What’s better than endless prompting from parents? Real encouragement from peers.

McKenzie Smith sums it up well.

“This challenge helped me learn that I would like to go further in my education with science and technology. I feel that girls today should try STEM programs so they can see if this would be a future for them. People are doing amazing things with science and technology today.”

Girls who created prosthetic hands for those in need and inspire other girls to get involved in STEM? Amazing indeed.

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This post is a part of our #StrongGirlsCan summer series. If you have missed previous posts, let me catch you up.


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My publisher is offerening a couple more FREE copies of my book, When More is Not Enough here. Go snag a copy now or point a friend in that direction.


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