Ever since she entered high school, Prachi Mishra has made it her mission to raise awareness of and increase interest in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – among all students, but especially among girls.
“When I was younger, I did not have much knowledge or exposure to tech(nology),” she said. “As I got into the world of STEM and the tech aspect of it in high school, I realized that there isn’t a lot of female representation in tech or STEM as a whole.”
Teacher Brian Ashline said Mishra has been in charge of outreach for the school’s robotics team since she was a freshman. The Shaker High School senior has also volunteered as a mentor for the Boght Hills robotics team and served as a leadership intern for Camp Invention – a week-long summer STEM program for grades 1-6 students.
“Prachi is a young lady who goes above and beyond promoting STEM education in the district,” said Ashline. ““She has helped organize demonstrations for more than 200 Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts over the years, and has attended many outreach events.”
For all that she does to promote STEM learning, Ashline nominated Prachi Mishra for the North Colonie Kids Care program.
Encouraging STEM learning with elementary students
To introduce younger students to the wonders of STEM, Mishra served as a mentor for the Junior Lego League Team at Boght Hills. There she worked with third graders – the youngest students on the team –helping them learn basic engineering concepts and offering support as they worked to solve this year’s challenge. Called Crazy Creatures, the challenge involved building a model bee and another animal found in the same ecosystem from LEGO® pieces and show how that animal and the bee interact with each other in the ecosystem.
“The team had to build a model with moving pieces. As the high school engineering mentor, I worked with them extensively on how gears work,” she said. “They learned to put different gears together to make motors spin faster or slower. Some of the pieces they put together were moving too fast, so I explained to them how to fit different sizes of gears together to make them go faster or slower based on what they wanted their model to be able to do.”
Mishra said through this opportunity, she was able to get a glimpse inside the mind of third graders. “They don’t think the same way that we think. I was able to teach them basic engineering skills in a way that they could understand,” she said. “At the same time, I learned a lot about patience and gained insight into how to implement engineering education in elementary schools.”
She added that the Lego League program is an excellent tool for inspiring children to explore STEM and learn if they want to pursue engineering in high school.
As an intern with Camp Invention, Mishra spent her days working with elementary students through different stations and different challenges. Over the course of a week, students rotate through various hands-on STEM-related activities that culminated in building a project.
One station required students to bring an old appliance from home – a VCR, a blender, a computer monitor that no longer worked – and take it apart during the course of the week. “What better way to learn about tech than take an object apart, look inside and see what each piece does and how each piece is integral to how the whole machine works,” she said. “The students got to take pieces from the appliance and use it in an invention that they created. I thought that was a really cool idea because you always hear successful people in tech talk about how when they were little they would often take computers apart and put them back together.”
Outreach work includes demonstrations, panels
As a sophomore, Mishra became the director of outreach and recruitment for the robotics team where she helped organize demonstrations for Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups. For the demos, she developed stations where the scouts were given a design challenge and time to build a product based on the challenge.
Her outreach also involved serving as a panelist representing females in STEM. Mishra and another Shaker student (Wenny Maio) were invited by a mentor working with the district to sit on a panel and share their ideas with teachers and others involved in STEM education on how to increase STEM awareness in the classroom. For a second panel, she spoke about STEM and answered questions for young female students who want to be involved in STEM.
“Being part of that panel got me interested in this kind of outreach work,” said Mishra. “It is where I realized not many girls are involved in STEM and as a female who is involved in STEM, it’s something that I have become passionate about. I want to see more girls in STEM.”