Bosch and Mind Trekkers team up to deliver ultimate STEM experience

Stefanie Sidortsova, Michigan Tech News

A year ago, Bosch partnered with Michigan Technological University’s Mind Trekkers to spark creativity and imagination in K-12 students. The result? A unique program that addresses the STEM gap crisis.

Mind Trekkers, the flagship program of Michigan Tech’s Center for Pre-College Outreach, is made up of undergraduate and graduate students who travel across the country to deliver hands-on, high-energy demonstrations that teach K-12 students about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The goal: inspire kids to pursue a college education in STEM.

Mind Trekkers show kids how to make music with bananas and a computer. They keep inflated balloons intact on a bed of nails. They help students make ice cream out of liquid nitrogen — in 60 seconds. These are just a few of the dozens of often messy and always entertaining activities at their road shows.

In 2016, Bosch was looking for ways to expand the company’s STEM outreach with K-12 students. The company saw, and continues to see, a growing STEM crisis — a gap between what students are learning and what the future may demand of them.

“As a company that cares about culture, society and certainly the technological space, we want to make sure we’re taking an active role in engaging today’s youth for tomorrow’s future,” said Max Straub, chief financial officer and executive vice president of finance, controlling and administration for Bosch in North America. “But we knew that in order to play a meaningful role, we would need to make a significant investment.”

Bosch also knew the company and its foundation, the Bosch Community Fund, wouldn’t be able to do it alone — it would have to find other organizations with different skill sets and expertise. After seeing several Mind Trekkers demonstrations, Bosch knew it had found the right partner.

Bosch approached Cody Kangas, Michigan Tech’s director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach, with an idea to form a threefold partnership.

“Bosch’s idea was to form a partnership that brought both philanthropy and industry partners to Mind Trekkers,” Kangas said. “It’s a triangular partnership of corporate, foundation and university interests. And so far, it’s been a winning combination.”

After an initial test-run event in South Carolina in 2017, a three-year partnership was born: The Bosch Experience powered by Mind Trekkers. A $405,000 gift from the Bosch Community Fund supports all Bosch Experience events that have and will take place throughout 2018-20. Factoring in past and future contributions, the Bosch foundation and corporation combined have invested more than half a million dollars in partnering with Mind Trekkers.

The first Bosch-Mind Trekkers event took place in South Carolina in 2017, and five events followed in 2018: Livonia, Michigan; Greenville, South Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; San Francisco; and the April 2018 FIRST Championships in Detroit. These five events reached more than 60,000 students, teachers, parents and community members.

Mind Trekkers and Bosch have the same expectations for each Bosch Experience event. They want kids to have an “aha!” moment where science becomes fun — and hopefully a realization that leads them to pursue careers in STEM. They also want students to see themselves in both the Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers and the Bosch associates guiding the demonstrations. And they want it to be fun.

“There is a shift somewhere between fourth and seventh grade where kids start feeling they don’t belong in science. We want to have the opposite effect. We want them to come away realizing that if they like The Bosch Experience, then a university like Michigan Tech and a career at a place like Bosch is possible for them,” said Straub.

While the partnership is working well, Bosch and Mind Trekkers see room for expansion. There’s a strong role for communities to play by hosting science festivals that include The Bosch Experience. That investment would help Mind Trekkers, Bosch and communities reach more students in an exciting and active atmosphere where teachers can provide support and parents can keep the learning going with take-home activities.

For Kangas, this form of STEM outreach doesn’t just inspire individual kids and their families — on a larger scale, it increases Michigan workforce development and national workforce engagement. “Exposing young people to exciting, engaging and consequential non-traditional experiences is critical to raising and cultivating the future leaders we need,” he said.

“Immersing students in STEM is a multi-faceted, collective way to produce and deploy a versatile ocean of talent with the capacity to propel our global marketplace onward into the 21st century,” Kangas continued. “Crosscutting partnerships like this, between industry and higher education, can mobilize and drive boots-on-the-ground efforts that deliver proven transformational experiences for the next generation in communities across the United States.”

*Note: This story ran March 7