Student-run Nonprofit has big plans to Expand Access to 3D Printing to more students

Render of a student design – Image: The STEAM Foundation | French: Rendu d'une conception d'élève - Image : The Foundation STEAM

Age is nothing but a number. It doesn’t define your skills, nor your ability to lead and inspire others, yet pride is always greater when you see a 16th year old gentleman being a leader and advocate for STEAM education.

This gentleman is Aadhav Prabu. He cofounded The Steam Foundation with Akshar Raikanti. With the goal of making STEAM education equally accessible to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the non-profit delivers free workshops that teach 3D printing, robotics, graphic design, and coding to students as well as programs to help bring 3D printing into schools.

Prabu and Raikanti are currently juniors at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, Calif., and have been teaching 3D printing for years. They were inspired to start the organization after seeing how engaged students were in their 3D printing club in middle school.

Today, The Steam Foundation partners with 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot, another advocate for STEAM education, to expand access to 3D printing for students. The organization donated 3D printing equipment and materials to support the Foundation’s mission and programs.

What’s the next step for The Steam Foundation?

One of the key highlights of the non-profit in 2021 was the launch of virtual 3D printing camps that enabled “students from across the country to not just learn about 3D printing, but to interact with one another, to collaborate, to create projects together, and to share these experiences with each other.”

The camp is a 10-week deep dive into the fundamentals of 3D printing and 3D design. According to a press release, last semester, students participated from across 13 states, including California, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, New York, Washington, and Kansas. Over the course of 10 weeks, students learned about different 3D printing technologies, materials like PLA, ABS, and TPU, design and CAD software, and how to print using the MakerBot Replicator+. Since the program was held virtually, students would send their final designs to the instructor, who would send them to print on the Replicator+, and then mail them to the students. This allowed the students to see and feel their designs physically, which can help them better understand the iterative nature of product design.

Last semester was the first time we offered a game incentive–and we were happily surprised with how well it went. The design challenge motivated students to perform better and become more involved with the class and each other. They were really focused on trying to improve their design skills for the contest and it pushed them to try harder,” said Prabu. “We also noticed that they started engaging with each other more, talking through issues and asking each other questions before turning to the instructor.

For 2022, they will be organizing up to four virtual 3D printing camps in order to attract 4x the number of students. To do that, they’ve recruited and trained students from previous camps to become the new instructors.

“We’re excited to expand our program and work with some of our past students as instructors. The goal is that, by the end of the 10 weeks, we’ve given them a toolkit with all the basic things that they would need to go further with 3D printing,” said Prabu. “Our hopes are that they can use that toolkit to really build great and advanced projects moving forward. That way, we can continue to inspire more students to get into STEAM education and get more experience with 3D printing specifically.”

In addition to the STEAM camps, The Steam Foundation has additional plans to bring 3D printing into more communities. The Foundation’s Outreach Program focuses on helping under-resourced schools start 3D printing clubs by loaning them 3D printing equipment and resources. The founders believe that with the right support and resources, schools can make a better impact on their students, a press release states.

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