With the final awards of the NDSU Innovation Challenge being announced next week, we’ll be featuring a few “sneak-peeks” of the products that the next generation of entrepreneurs is working on.

First up in our Innovation Challenge sneak-peeks is STARS, a program started by NDSU students Lauren Singelmann and Michelle Sauvageau in the hopes of providing affordable STEM resources resources to teachers and students. Right now, renting out STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineer and mathematics) resources like snap-circuit kits and LEGO Mindstorms, for example, is costing teachers a pretty penny.

“It’s usually around $700 to buy enough kits for the class,” said Singelmann, who is involved in NDSU’s STEM outreach program. “And a lot of times teachers end up paying for it out of their own pockets.”

All that, typically for a kit that is used only for a few weeks to teach specific lessons, Singelmann said.

A clear need for affordable STEM resources

She and Sauvageau, saw this need and used it as inspiration for their NDSU Innovation Challenge project which they titled STARS: STEM Teaching Aid Resource Sharing. They want to create a system where teachers can rent out affordable STEM resources and equipment. In this way it’s not only cheaper, but also allows the equipment to be passed along more efficiently to different schools.

Affordable STEM resources

Sauvageau (left) and Singelmann (right) pose with a snap-circuit board used in STEM programs.

For Sauvageau, the light bulb moment hit when her aunt, a local school principal, asked if she could loan some LEGO mindstorm kits – $349.95 on Amazon-  from an engineering mentorship program Sauvageau and Singelmann are a part of called Tech GYRLS.

“That was a huge moment for me,” Sauvageau said. “It made so much sense to me to create a program that could distribute and give educators access to STEM resources.”

Through STARS, the two hope to eliminate the countless hours teachers spend trying to find affordable STEM resources and solutions to things like snap-circuit boards and LEGO mindstorm kits. Affordable STEM resources

Plus, Sauvageau added, learning with these cool tech kits is just plain fun. She herself learned and gained an interest in engineering through STEM kits, but this was only because her mother is an educator. Other students, she said, are not so lucky.

“​Students deserve to learn about STEM topics in a fun and engaging way that sparks an interest in them,” she said. “It is one thing to show students a video about how electricity works, but to get the chance to build your own electrical circuit and then test it using a kit like Snap Circuits is so much better!”

How STARS will work

As of right now, she explained, STARS would ask for a $20 annual membership fee per teacher. This fee is necessary for replacement costs of broken items, lost pieces or disposable kits. There would also be an option for district-wide membership for $150 per year. By joining the program, teachers will have access to an online catalog, which will feature hundreds of STEM-related kits, Sauvageau said. Resources will be reserved through an electronic catalog and could be picked up at their location. A future expansion would be shipping out the kits that are reserved, she added, but at the moment they don’t have the resources to do that.

STARS idea receiving positive response from educators

So far, Sauvagaeu said they have spoken with teachers and educators they know personally and have received extremely positive response about their affordable STEM resources idea. In April, they will be presenting to the North Dakota STEM Conference and look forward to the feedback they will receive there.

Next week, the two will present their affordable STEM resources idea as part of the NDSU Innovation Challenge finals on February 25. The final awards will be announced at the public Awards Luncheon on February 26, from 11:30 – 1:00 pm at the Fargodome (Register here!). If they place first, their team will win $5,000.

Sauvageau said if they do win, she wants to first buy a nice gift for their project adviser Holly Erickson, put some into savings, and use the rest to purchase some STEM kits to get their program off the ground.

“Our goal is to have STARS launched by next school year in the Fargo area,” she said, noting that they want to reach out particularly to rural areas, as rural schools have a much smaller budget for STEM.

“If a model like ours was adopted all over North Dakota, the future of STEM in our state would be phenomenal.”

Photo courtesy of Marisa Jackels.

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Marisa Jackels