The Journey of Young Inquisitive Minds
As reported by a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, over 34 percent of students diagnosed with autism tend to gravitate towards STEM careers and interests. Compared to the 23 percent found among the general education, students on the spectrum exhibited more interest and aspired to work in the field long term. Unfortunately, although the interest persists, the opportunities for them to pursue their interest are lacking as they are still one of the most underrepresented communities in STEM Majors. Living in the Bay Area, one of the most technologically advanced places in the world, we were perplexed to find that many Bay Area students in special education programs lack simple means to a strong education, the most shocking being that they had never experienced STEM activities. It was for this very reason that Young Inquisitive Minds was founded.
Since our beginning in late 2018, Young Inquisitive Minds and Elevate the Future have been working relentlessly to make our community a more inclusive place for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded by two high schoolers in the Bay Area, and later acquired by Elevate the Future, Young Inquisitive Minds was the product of their interests: STEM and working with kids with special needs. With minds full of ideas regarding STEM accessibility to the special needs community, they approached various organizations in the Bay Area who hosted weekly activities or support groups for these students to entertain the possibility of them hosting our program as a part of their group. The Santa Clara Therapeutic Recreation Center was among several of the local organizations that expressed interest and offered full financial support for the activities that were brought on.
Our first program at the recreation center was a true learning experience for us as we were given the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of our pre-planned activities. Our diligent efforts with the sessions paid off as we saw tangible effects in many kids within the program. Many who were hesitant about joining and involving themselves in the activites left with greater understanding of a STEM concept of their choice as well as a spark to continue exploring this topic. Since our first program, our team has spent over 100 hours revising lesson plans for other programs and getting advice from experts on how to make our programs suitable for the participants. Over the course of the past year, the team has grown to a sustainable, executive team and over 35 high school volunteers looking to be a part of change in our community. Furthermore, we have gained support from large, influential individuals in our community with strong roles in the special needs community.
We don’t plan on stopping now. With the amount of progress that we have made within the past year, we know that 2020 will be a great year for us as we have several community projects and global efforts underway as we plan to extend our impact to outside of our local community. Through our programs, we have seen over 30 kids express curiosity and interest in STEM at an impressionable age and hope to develop interest in more. With our efforts, we will continue inspiring the youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, showing them that regardless of where their passions may lie, they will have the support of their community to pursue their interests no matter how hard it may be.