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.

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The NCLR Innovation Lab: Inspiring Entrepreneurship in Latino Youth

Latino students make up 25 percent of the student population but only about 7 percent of the STEM workforce. One way we’re working to increase that 7 percent figure is through our Innovation Lab.

Earlier this month, STEM educators from ten different program sites traveled to our headquarters in Washington to participate in Innovation Lab, a two-day training on the new STEM curriculum inspired by the film Underwater Dreams.

Underwater Dreams

Underwater Dreams tells the story of a group of low-income Latino high school students and how they won a prestigious robotics competition. The goal of the NCLR Innovation Lab is for Latino students to identify a genuine need in their community and to develop a tech-based solution to address that gap or that challenge.

Juliana Ospina Cano, NCLR STEM Manager, and Jose Rodriguez, NCLR Regional Director of Education for Texas and the Southwest Region, organized and led the NCLR Innovation Lab training.

“We can see that there is a significant gap in STEM education. As a result, NCLR has developed a series of K–12 programs to encourage more Latino students to consider pursuing a STEM career,” said Juliana Ospina Cano.

The educators

The first day of the Innovation Lab was dedicated to introducing the educators to the curriculum and STEM mindset. By using Underwater Dreams as inspiration, our Affiliates will tap into the resilient Latino spirit to problem-solve and develop solutions for challenges faced in the community.

“I work in K–5 classrooms teaching engineering and 95 percent of our students are Hispanic. I am very excited to be here to bring more opportunities to them,” said Lauren Levy, STEM Specialist at Synergy Charter Elementary School. “I think Underwater Dreams will inspire our students by motivating them and it could lead to grassroots movements in our community.”

On the second day, the teachers presented the lesson plans they created for the curriculum the day before. They were evaluated on their delivery and received collective feedback, which participants found to be especially valuable.

“I serve grades 9–12. The mock lessons have been very helpful because I am able to see how other people interpret the same curriculum and how it is flexible,” said Martin Barrera, Instructor at Los Angeles Leadership Academy High School. “The educators in the room have been very supportive.”

Next steps: our students and comunidad

The educators will return to their communities and begin implementing the NCLR Innovation Lab program. Ospina Cano and Rodriguez will follow up with regular communication and professional development.

“Our primary focus is for these educators to experience success in the implementation of the NCLR Innovation Lab,” said Rodriguez.