In EF’s “The making of” series, we explore what goes into the creation of an EF tour. Today, we’re focusing on STEM Discovery: Boston, designed to empower students to pursue their passions by connecting them with scientists, robotics researchers, and more at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations and higher education institutions.
When EF began to build our now-extensive STEM tour portfolio, it was a no-brainer to start with a class trip to Boston. While traces of history are visible on almost every block of the city, so is cutting-edge innovation. Major biotech and robotics companies, renowned universities (like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and even EF’s North American headquarters all call this city home.
The next step was to define what could make this itinerary special by collaborating with industry partners in unique ways. So, rather than give students a traditional admissions officer-led tour of MIT’s campus, we decided to connect them directly with an undergraduate, giving students a firsthand look at what it’s like to be a STEM major in college. And when we dreamt up a visit to MassRobotics, a nonprofit organization that supports robotics and automation startups, we were excited to give students the opportunity to interact with robots and meet the innovators who work there. “To bring this tour to life, those who work in product (developing the itinerary) and production work hand in hand. We spend a ton of time looking at each group individually to decide which experiences and tour flow would work best for them,” says EF Production Specialist Emily N.
Our Senior Product Manager Kate D. adds, “Our Boston STEM program’s entire purpose is to inspire students to reach for the stars and study whatever they’re passionate about, no matter their background. By connecting them with STEM industry professionals, they receive authentic and supportive advice that they may not have access to back at home.” And when students are exposed to these incredible thought leaders, they’re also introduced to future career paths that they might not know exist—or that may not even exist at all…yet.
When it came to creating this Boston STEM program, there were dozens of EF staff members, educators, and partners involved at each step of the process. But if there’s one standout feature that makes this class trip especially extraordinary, it’s the way we were able to leverage our invaluable partnerships with labs, universities, and companies who are breaking new ground in STEM. Enter Darby J., the Director of Educational Programming & Partnerships at EF Explore America, who oversees and facilitates every connection.
The road to building a robust STEM program began by talking with teachers directly. “We began with our customers by bringing Group Leaders into EF’s Boston office to brainstorm. We wanted to learn which STEM elements were truly important to them. Through these conversations, it became clear that the salient features of our STEM portfolio needed to include students making, creating, and doing, in addition to discovering, noticing deeply, and sharing their perceptions,” reflects Darby.
Darby worked with the Product Development team (think of them as “itinerary builders”) to implement suggestions from Group Leaders and create an outline of STEM Discovery: Boston. Then, as he worked to secure long-lasting relationships with top STEM organizations (like MIT, FIRST®, and the Museum of Science), he also realized that as the STEM world constantly evolves, so should our on-tour student experiences and projects.
“We’re always sourcing new STEM partners with exciting, hands-on experiences to offer our student travelers. We lean into the notion that science is advancing with exponential speed. In order to keep up and ensure our itineraries exemplify current, innovative discoveries and relevant content, we are always looking for the latest and greatest in all of our STEM Discovery destinations, including Boston. This process is rooted in market research and leveraging our current connections to open new doors. For example, we would never have met with students involved in the Student Space Initiative at Stanford University (now on STEM Discovery: San Francisco) if it wasn’t for a close relationship with the New York Academy of Science built through STEM Discovery: New York City. The process is iterative and always exciting!” says Darby.
A Q&A with Joyce Sidopoulos, Co-Founder and Chief of Operations at MassRobotics
A: MassRobotics is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to help create and scale the next generation of successful robotics and connected device companies. We provide entrepreneurs and innovative startups with the workspace and resources they need to develop, prototype, test, and commercialize their products and solutions. We bridge the gap for startups and move new technology forward by educating corporate partners on what robotics can do for them, like creating new jobs and maximizing efficiency.
A huge part of our mission is to also educate students and the community by introducing them to robotics, showing them that robots are helpful to society and not harmful, and showing them collaborative use cases. We offer a variety of ways to get involved in our STEM programs, from a short visit to a longer workshop.
A: Students will spend about three hours with us and learn about the many industries that robotics is disrupting through real-world examples of machines used in construction, manufacturing, and packaging. They will interact with these robots to understand the mechanisms of how they work, how they are used, and how they play a role in shaping our future. They’ll even program some of the robots to play games like rock paper scissors, perform sign language, or pick things up.
A: Nearly all industries are being touched and disrupted by technology (and many with robotics) to solve challenges that improve repetitive tasks or fix processes that are currently dull, dirty, and dangerous. In the next decade, nearly every industry will be adopting robotics in some fashion. It’s important that students are familiar and comfortable around this technology and that they understand it. It’s even more exciting if they study and pursue careers in STEM.
We often get multiple groups of students on EF tours at the same time, but when they’re all together in our facility, robotics feels like an international language. It doesn’t matter where students are from—robots make everyone excited, and we’ve found that students just naturally dive in and work together.
We had an all-girl EF tour of juniors from Texas visit us in October 2022, and I especially love these programs because we’re always on a mission to get more women involved in STEM. When we can help girls gain confidence and feel empowered when talking about or working with technology, that can help shift their career focus and open a path toward engineering.
A: My own children have traveled on six EF tours and had a blast, so I’ve been aware of EF for years. We started exploring a STEM partnership in 2018, and after some pilot testing, decided to host the FIRST® programs in our own facility as well, which EF helped us build the space for as one of our STEM Champions. While I’ve been connected to Steve (the Regional Director of FIRST®) for years, our bond and programs have only grown stronger through working together with EF.
We host many STEM programs that engage our local community, including a Drone Academy, a Jumpstart Program for high school girls, and the annual Robot Party (our largest community event). While we enjoy having students from the greater Boston area in our space, EF Explore America brings students from across the nation, really extending our reach to more diverse groups. We love sharing and exposing all students to robotics and our partnership is doing just that!