A nonprofit is offering parents the ability to create customized storybooks for their children that focus on STEM subjects, which include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
cuSTEMIzed geared the books toward children between the ages of three and eight in an effort to not only teach them about the world of STEM, but also to encourage them to consider careers in the field.
"You have to expose children to science early on," explained Jean Fan, the woman behind cuSTEMized. "When they're young, they love to take things apart and ask why. Science is a means for them to not only ask why, but also to go about a scientific manner to answer their own questions."
Fan is a PhD candidate with a focus on Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at Harvard. In her first year in the program, she noticed she was the only woman. A number of perceptions of science held by children became clearer to her when she decided to teach "Computer Science Without Intimidation" at the Innovation Institute. She noted this to be especially true of girls and minority students.
"Through that experience, I saw that girls and minorities didn't see STEM careers, like biotechnology or engineering, as possibilities for themselves," Fan told us. "I wanted to apply my computational skills in a way that would change their thinking."
Fan then decided to create a software program that offered the capability to customize STEM-themed books for young readers. All of the included content has been written by scientists, who are looking to help children understand what it is they do all day, writes Olivia Vanni for BostInno.
The first book in the series, "Little Book of Big Dreams," explores the various STEM careers available and how they help to create an impact across the world. Each book is customized to include the individual name of the child, as well as a main character that looks like them.
Launched in 2013, cuSTEMized earned 600% of its goal for "Little Book of Big Dreams" during its first Kickstarter campaign. Fan is currently looking into her second crowdfunding effort through which she is hoping to raise $10,000 to be used for the nonprofit's second book. Fan says this book will focus on the various subsections of each of the STEM subjects with "flashier" careers including 3D printing organs and materials science.
The nonprofit also plans to use the Kickstarter funds to develop an accompanying app for the books that will offer complementary material on STEM topics. Fan would like to see the app be free to download with the ability to make purchases from within the app. In addition, she said the new book would be free to download with an option to order a paperback, hardcover, or spiral-bound version for $35 and up.
Elsewhere, additional efforts are being made to increase the interest of children in STEM subjects. The USA Science and Engineering Festival is one such example.
According to Blair Blackwell, manager of education and corporate programs at Chevron STEM Zone, the festival focuses on offering children hands-on STEM activities that allow them to see how what they are learning in the classroom can extend into real-world uses.
The goal of all these efforts is to increase children's interest in STEM subjects so that they will be encouraged to continue to study the topics throughout their schooling and consider STEM careers later on in life.