STEM is everywhere! No really, it’s EVERYWHERE. Principles of science and mathematics govern everything around us. An example of this ubiquity is my discovery of the talkSTEM organization. I first heard about talkSTEM in a social innovation class and was instantly captivated by the walkSTEM model. I felt like I had something to add to the collection of walkSTEM tours, and I decided that the Duke University campus was the perfect place to make a tour! When I first embarked on the journey of creating a walkSTEM tour, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of things there were to talk about. How do I choose what STEM principles to talk about? Will it be interesting? This stop or that stop? The truth is that the walkSTEM format is so versatile and so accessible, that there are millions of ways to create a tour. Here are a few things I learned while creating my personal version of a walkSTEM tour on my university’s campus here in Durham, NC. My goal was to create a fun, engaging, and educational resource that girls and boys in upper elementary and middle school could enjoy – whether they visited the Duke campus for a field trip or camp or whether they visited Duke virtually using the videos that I would create! The opportunity to create unique place-based, STEM-focused tours of spaces is open to all college students, as well as to other students of all ages and to professionals. It’s really a great way to see STEM in the real world, guided by real people who have a passion for STEM in that particular space. Together we can present diverse perspectives of the huge and fascinating world of STEM!

  1. Don’t Start from Scratch

As an engineer, I am the first to say ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’. Engineers are always adapting existing technologies to new problems. The same applies to a STEM tour, although I didn’t realize it at first. I wasn’t sure where to start with my tour! I decided to use the theme of Engineering Design Process because I was familiar with it, but there are dozens of interpretations of the design process. Which one should I use? I found it extremely helpful to look at existing walkSTEM tours and decide what video styles I liked. I also looked for other sources that talked about my stops. The more information you have, the better your tour will be! I learned to not worry about being original and just focus on creating a fun and educational tour.

2. Lean in to all of your STEM skills

 Once I decided on the Engineering Design Process as the theme and created a framework to describe the process, the next step was to apply the framework. It was challenging at first to apply a different engineering principle to every stop. Should I be talking about calculus or addition? What is the right level of technical? I felt the need to use complex scientific principles to prove to myself that I was creating a STEM-themed tour. The problem here is obvious: a sixth grader doesn’t want to know about partial derivatives yet! What I was missing was the range of STEM skills that can be included in a tour. Instead of derivatives, I discussed data analysis and recognizing patterns. I talked about asking questions, making hypotheses, and iteration. Developing curiosity and critical thinking is arguably more important for engineers than mathematic calculations. I learned to look at all of my STEM skills, not just the ones that seemed the most technical.

3. Have Fun!

I admit, this one seems cheesy. But it is an important take away that I have from this experience. The ultimate goal of a walkSTEM tour is to help kids have fun and get excited about STEM while still learning some rich concepts. So, why should the creators not have fun and be excited while making the tour? I found it easy to get caught up in the script-writing, filming, and editing, and forget why I was doing this. I am passionate about helping women and girls achieve their dreams in STEM fields. One way to do that is to get them excited about the ways that they interact with STEM in their built environments. By reminding myself of the ‘why’ behind my efforts, I had renewed motivation. 

Additionally, I had the most fun when I was sharing my ideas and working with others. As an active member of the Duke chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, I turned to my peers to help me brainstorm, and I loved seeing the different perspectives of female engineers. As soon as I reached out to Duke SWE, they were more than willing to help me. We hosted a fun zoom event where groups of female engineers applied the Engineering Design Process to common campus sites. There are many campus organizations that could have helped with the tour, and if I did it again, I would have included all of them!  Getting friends, family, faculty, colleagues, or strangers involved with your tour will make it more fun for everyone!

In conclusion

My biggest takeaway from creating this tour was the dozens of ways to make a tour. I made videos based on the design process, but a walkSTEM tour can be any kind of place-based STEM learning experience. Guidelines for creating your own walkSTEM tours are available here and you can also reach out to the organization if you have questions. I consulted with founder and CEO, Dr Koshi Dhingra who was very helpful. Many walkSTEM tours, including walkSTEM@Duke University are now being adapted as virtual, audio tours on the freely downloadable, location-based Otocast app! Tours can also be on paper as a brochure or activity sheet, in person with a guide, as audio clips, or video. There are many helpful resources on the talkSTEM website to help you get started with your walkSTEM tour!

Accessing walkSTEM@Duke

            The walkSTEM@Duke University experience is also available through these other means:

            Otocast: a virtual, location-based guide will soon be available on the easy-to-use Otocast app (available on all iOS and android devices).

            I created some supplementary Activity Sheets that I hope will help to extend the learning from the tour: https://talkstem.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/walkSTEM-at-DukeUniversity.pdf

I hope the walkSTEM tour that I designed will be used by many young people and that they will enjoy the experience. I also hope that other undergrads like myself will design their own walkSTEM tours and share – it’s a wonderful way to share our mindsets with younger students and to have an impact!

Special Note: walkSTEM will soon have its own app allowing everyone to freely access all its tours designed by its growing community – stay tuned!  Best way to stay in the know is to sign up to join the talkSTEM community – right below this blog post.

About Katie:

Katie Drinkwater is a junior at Duke University studying Mechanical Engineering and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. She is from Reno, Nevada and loves martial arts, traveling, cooking, country music, and paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe. On Duke’s campus, she is a tour guide for the Pratt School of Engineering, involved in Club Taekwondo and Club Krav Maga, an active member of Duke Engineers for International Development, and the VP of Communications for Duke SWE. Katie loves STEM because she enjoys problem solving and learning more about science and math in the world around her!

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About the Founder & CEO

Dr. Koshi Dhingra has dedicated her career to STEM education and is passionate about having every child live up to their potential. Seeing a lack of girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM programs, she founded talkSTEM in 2015 to address the imbalance. She has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, has years of experience teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs, and has held leadership roles in universities. She advises and collaborates with a broad range of educational institutions globally. Dr. Dhingra began her career teaching science in middle and high school in New York. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs.