Geekbus on drive to inspire kids about STEM

Gillette Elementary School students get lesson in computing programming, 3D printing

SAN ANTONIO – Seven-year-old Jasmine Sanchez was doing more than the usual reading and writing in class.  She was programming a computer -- or at least beginning to.

The Gillette Elementary School second-grader and her classmates busily plugged in HDMI cables and logged on to the small computers for a special show-and-tell session, courtesy of the Geekbus.

The big, black Geekbus-emblazoned vehicle pulled into the Harlandale ISD campus Thursday morning, the latest stop on its Texas tour.

"It's all about getting kids interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)," said Mark Barnett, director of SASTEMIC, a nonprofit with a mission of promoting STEM and bolstering businesses that need technical talent. "Today, we're teaching computer programming. Some days we teach robotics. Other days, video game design."

Inside the Geekbus, students got an up-close look at a 3D printer in action and learned how the high-tech machines can make anything from toys to prosthetics.

"It was cool," said fourth-grader Calista Castareno.

Sitting front of their computer monitors, they followed directions and created a homework folder. For some, it was a rare opportunity to touch and use a computer.  For others, it seemed almost intuitive.

"There's some really brilliant kids," Barnett said. "The other day, a student showed me something on a computer that I was not even aware of."

A former teacher, Barnett said he now likes being able to reach many classrooms of kids and exposing them to the possibilities and career paths that involve STEM.

"With the Geekbus, we can reach over 13,000 students a year," he said. "We're out almost every single day at a school around town."

SASTEMIC, which has the support of Backspace, the 80/20 Foundation, Geekdom and Cognizant, aims to grow technological talent that local advanced manufacturing or IT companies can draw on in the future.

"They can't fill those jobs. They have to import talent from outside," Barnett said. "We're trying to build the talent right here in San Antonio by getting these kids involved in STEM."

Schools welcome Barnett and his team to help inspire the students to pursue technology and math-related studies. At at young age, it has to be fun; and fun is what the Geekbus delivers.

Fifth-grader Yasmine Rodriguez said she learned a lot in the few hours spent with the Geekbus team.

"I learned that you don't have to be a genius to do it," she said.

Ten-year-old Samuel Espinosa, who said he wants to be a pro football player one day, may not have a backup plan.

"I learned coding computers isn't really that hard," he said.

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