Robots Create Opportunity for Indigenous Youth

 

We first met Danielle Boyer (Ojibwe) when she was 17. You may know her as one of the Main Stage speakers at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2020, as someone featured in past SOLIDWORKS Educational blogs, or from her appearance in our Born to Design podcast. She is the inventor of Every Kid Gets a Robot (EKGAR), a robot that costs less than $20 and goes to kids for free.

Danielle’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) outreach continues to expand through her heritage.  Since 1990, November is Native American Heritage Month (NAHM), in the USA, an opportunity to celebrate and uplift Indigenous peoples and their beautiful and unique cultures.  I had a virtual chat with Danielle, now age 20, about why NAHM matters to our SOLIDWORKS community?

Danielle stated, “Indigenous peoples are grossly underrepresented in technical careers. In fact, according to Intel and their racial breakdown in the ‘Overview of Diversity in the U.S. Technical Workforce,’ Indigenous peoples don’t even have their own category, they are placed in the “Other” category. This category is only 1%.”

Danielle went on to say, “Indigenous students drop out of high school at a rate that is twice the national average. According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly three out of every ten Native students drop out before graduating from high school in both reservations and cities, furthering the disparity of Indigenous peoples within technology centered careers.”

Luckily, there are people actively working to close this gap.  Shawn Ray and Danielle of The STEAM Connection, two young Indigenous people and SOLIDWORKS users, are using their unique talents and skills in engineering to make the change they want to see within their communities.  They are doing it with robots.

Shawn Ray is a 21-year-old Navajo (Dine) electrical engineering student who attends Oklahoma State University. His current work involves the research and development of artificial muscles for robotic exoskeleton applications as well as actively working as a board member on The STEAM Connection and member of his local university AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) chapter to encourage and build up more Indigenous students into the STEAM community.

 

Danielle is one of PEOPLE’s Girls Changing the World, a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, and is part of an NBC special acknowledging her hard work. She founded The STEAM Connection in 2019 and works to bring accessible, affordable, and diverse educational resources to kids. She also mentors 35 youth robotics teams.

Danielle and Shawn met through a national conference, held by an organization called the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), at a Boeing STEM Day exhibit that The STEAM Connection put on to promote EKGAR and 3D printing. AISES has and continues to be a game changer for so many Natives in STEM, providing resources to transform future careers through their beautiful intertribal community.

 

Since meeting, they have been collaborating through The STEAM Connection on educational initiatives. SOLIDWORKS continues to support their educational efforts they have been working towards and continues to provide resources that directly benefit Indigenous communities across the country. Through the SOLIDWORKS Education Edition, Danielle was able to invent EKGAR, and because of its low cost and ability to run without Internet access, it has proven to be the perfect resource for teaching youth about STEAM. The STEAM Connection has collectively sent out over 4,500 robots since the beginning of 2019. The SOLIDWORKS User Group Network has run three fundraisers for EKGAR, helping make these large shipments possible.

During the pandemic, both Danielle and Shawn have put on the COVID-19 Robotics Initiative to bring free EKGAR robots to Black and Indigenous youth to encourage the continuous growth and learning capabilities among communities. TooTallToby has also helped with this endeavor. Through this initiative, they teach sessions on engineering and technology.

From their virtual Make-A-Robot platform to the recently released open-source Twenty robot, SOLIDWORKS and robots have been making all the difference in their classrooms, enabling Danielle and Shawn to reach thousands who wouldn’t be able to access these opportunities otherwise.

SOLIDWORKS App for Kids has played a pivotal role in their initiatives during the pandemic and NAHM. It has been the perfect teaching tool to use through video conferencing platforms. No matter where their students may be, they can learn to CAD at home.

Both Shawn and Danielle are tenacious in providing educational resources and speaking on their experiences. During NAHM, they both keynoted the Natives in Tech Conference to share ways educators and technologists could become more involved in bringing EduTech to their local communities that are underrepresented. Danielle was the NAHM keynote for the Rochester Institute of Technology, sending 50 robots to the school to help undergraduate and graduate students learn about her work with EKGAR.

In February at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2020, we put on a 3DEXPERIENCE For Good Event, featuring Danielle as one of our speakers. On Education Day, with the help of the SOLIDWORKS community, we assembled 150 EKGAR kits, 50% given to Indigenous organizations. Our users’ efforts and contributions have been continuously uplifting to the Indigenous community and will continue to have a positive impact for years to come.

 

It’s now December, what can you do to help? Well, there are plenty of ways to become more involved to support Indigenous peoples everywhere. First, find out which people’s land you reside. If you live in North America, click here. Learn more about local tribes in your area, their history and culture, and opportunities to assist in STEM/STEAM learning.

As Danielle said, “It is through our continuous involvement and effort in which we make the greatest change. Ahéhee’ (thank you in Navajo) and miigwech (thank you in Ojibwemowin)!”

Be well.  Marie

Marie Planchard

Marie Planchard

Director of Education & Early Engagement, SolidWorks at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corporation
Marie Planchard is an education and engineering advocate. As Senior Director of Education & Early Engagement, SOLIDWORKS, she is responsible for global development of content and social outreach for the 3DEXPERIENCE Works products across all levels of learning including educational institutions, Fab Labs, and entrepreneurship.
Marie Planchard

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