Showcasing the 2016 NCLR Innovation Lab

How NCLR STEM Is Creating Innovative Spaces for Latino Youth

By Cindy Zavala, NCLR Education Programs Associate

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The Innovation Lab student groups at the 2016 NCLR Líderes Summit Bienvenida

Last month in Orlando, NCLR STEM held the Innovation Lab Showcase during this year’s NCLR Líderes Summit. The NCLR Innovation Lab is a program that inspires social entrepreneurship by encouraging students to tackle some of the most pressing needs in their communities. Finalists presented their innovation and product they designed to meet a need in their community. The student finalists were from four NCLR Affiliates: Conexión Américas, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Gads Hill Center, and Sociedad Latina.

The three finalists from Conexión Américas were from Glencliff High School’s ESL program. They advocated for a bigger, more environmentally friendly classroom with natural light, adequate ventilation, and state-of-the-art technology. The Glencliff students partnered with architects from their hometown of Nashville to create a 3D model and video of their eco-classroom that impressed the panelists.

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The students from Gads Hill Center wowed the judges with their local activism—by using Google Maps, they were able to advocate for more green spaces in their neighborhood of Pilsen, which has the lowest number of green spaces in Chicago. Finalists from Mujeres Latinas en Acción, also from Chicago, focused on the impact of global warming in their city and created a car demo to promote their own eco-fuel, called oilgae.

Students Manny Martinez, Kelvin Atocha and Maria Alicea from Sociedad Latina present their project.

Students Manny Martinez, Kelvin Atocha and Maria Alicea from Sociedad Latina present their project.

Sociedad Latina students focused on nutrition and the lack of healthy food options in their city of Boston. In order to combat this issue, they proposed a mobile app called EnerFeed to deliver healthy food options to students near the Mission Hill neighborhood.

Emmy award–winning comedian Joe Hernandez-Kolski opened the event joking that this would be “Dolphin Tank, a nicer version of Shark Tank.” This proved to be true, as each group presented their own innovation and tangible product and received constructive feedback from an inspiring panel of Latino professionals in the STEM fields.

Emmy-award winning comedian Joe Hernandez Kolski opening the 2016 NCLR Innovation Lab Showcase.

Emmy-award winning comedian Joe Hernandez Kolski opening the 2016 NCLR Innovation Lab Showcase.

The Dolphin Tank panelists included groundbreaking professionals such as Jesus Garcia Valadez, who spoke about how he pursued his passion of working with technology and businesses at Google, and Lesley Elwell, who explained to students how she pursued her engineering career, and was able to fulfill her dream at Sprint.

“Don’t second-guess yourself. I came to the United States when I was 19 years old,” said Luis Avila of the NCLR Board of Directors.

Panelists (from Left to Right): Jesus Garcia-Valadez, Head of Hispanic Communications for Google & YouTube; Lesley  Elwell, Vice President of Human Resources, Sprint; Luis Avila, NCLR Board of Directors; Andrea Belalcazar, Systems Project Manager, Latin@ VP of External Partnerships, Facebook; Miguel Soriano, Senior Concept Engineering, Shell Deepwater.

Panelists (from Left to Right): Jesus Garcia-Valadez, Head of Hispanic Communications for Google & YouTube; Lesley
Elwell, Vice President of Human Resources, Sprint; Luis Avila, NCLR Board of Directors; Andrea Belalcazar, Systems Project Manager, Latin@ VP of External Partnerships, Facebook; Miguel Soriano, Senior Concept Engineering, Shell Deepwater.

“I came to the United States at 15 years old and I’m thankful for programs like these,” said Andrea Betalcazar, from Facebook, when speaking about the Innovation Lab Showcase.

Engineering students from Florida International University (FIU) showed Innovation Lab participants what they can create with a STEM career. Nicole Fierro, President of the FIU Eco-Engineering Club, shared her story along with her classmates Cindy Vargas, Jose Martinez, and Luiz Angello.

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Each FIU student talked about their own struggles as newly arrived immigrants, the first in their family to go to college, experiencing language barriers, and being one of few Latinos in their engineering courses. The Líderes audience was thrilled to hear from students who were not much older than them, and who were succeeding in pursuing a STEM career. The greatest surprise came when the FIU students presented their own product, a Shell Eco-marathon car. The FIU group discussed the process of building the car and seeing their hard work pay off when their car finished well in the race. Joe Hernandez-Kolski even got in the car and took it for a spin while he emceed the event.

The showcase highlighted ways in which the Innovation Lab cultivated the students’ entrepreneurial spirits. The distinguished tech panel provided them with words of wisdom, encouragement and feedback, while sharing their own personal STEM journey. Most importantly, Summit attendees had the opportunity to learn about the NCLR STEM pipeline in a fun and engaging showcase.

Learn more about NCLR STEM on the NCLR website.

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