When Rashanae Nobles, 16, entered FirstHand's Project Inquiry program, she aspired to be a chef. At FirstHand, she discovered she could translate that interest into a career in food science.
"Math and science used to be intimidating," she says. "They aren't anymore."
Rashanae, a student at Philadelphia's High School of the Future, is among 12 teens in the first cohort of Project Inquiry, which launched in October 2016.
High school sophomores spend over eight months exploring design, engineering, entrepreneurship, and technology. Project Inquiry offers a more in–depth and focused experience with STEM learning than FirstHand's middle school programs.
Teams of students worked directly with scientists and entrepreneurs who served both as mentors and clients for real–life projects. The students had to meet deadlines, do independent research, and prototype their projects as a team, while fulfilling the needs of their clients, companies at the Science Center.
That's where Makayla Washington, 15, learned about BioBots, a startup that uses 3D printers to print living tissue.
"If you need a heart transplant, their machine will build you a heart some day," says Makayla, who wants to be a surgeon.
The Project Inquiry students were tasked with designing a new logo for BioBots. Makayla used graphic design software with laser and vinyl cutters to create and display her team's rebrand ideas.
After the BioBots challenge, Project Inquiry students worked with Halo Labs to help them prototype a visualization device. Students programmed an LED pixel ring, a process that required learning to code and solder.
"I made an LGBTQ light to recognize gay people and searched for colors to make a sort of rainbow," Rashanae says.
The five girls in Project Inquiry presented at the Lead Like A Girl conference in Princeton, N.J., in April 2017. There they led a spirited conversation on the importance of girls pursuing careers in STEM fields.
"We told our stories, about what we want to do in life, and walked away with a lot of confidence," Rashanae says. "Learning about science never stops — and I will take every opportunity that is thrown at me."