Duke students accept ‘Rethink Education’ challenge

Jan. 07, 2014 @ 06:17 PM

After coming back a few days early from winter vacation, more than 100 Duke students spent 16-hour days thinking of ways to revamp education in both the U.S. and India.

The 48-hour brainstorming blitz held at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business wasn’t for academic credit, but instead offered a global challenge: How could one improve science, technology, engineering and math skills in students from both India and the U.S.?
The “Rethink Education” teams worked with coaches from the business, education and nonprofit sectors to hone their ideas, which were then presented to a panel of judges. During the two and a half days, they also listened to presentations from subject-matter experts on education, from former N.C. Governor Jim Hunt to Maya Ajmera, founder of the Global Fund for Children, a children’s rights organization.
“There’s an increasing number of students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Leslie Babinski, a research scientist with Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, which organized the school’s fifth annual winter forum. “They’re just hungry for the real-world applications.”
Duke President Richard Brodhead spoke to the room full of teams Tuesday during lunch.
“What I think you got is the taste of the importance of the problem and a taste of the pleasure of using your intelligence to try to understand the problem, how to define it on a manageable scale, and how to define something that might find a way to change the lives of actual people,” Brodhead said.
The first-place team was announced Tuesday afternoon. They created the groundwork for an online platform called “STEM Pals,” its design based loosely after Pinterest, a site for scrapbooking and sharing ideas, that would help students graduate with STEM problem-solving skills and provide teachers with tangible resources in the U.S. and overseas.
The STEM Pals idea also would include “lessons in a box,” where kits would provide the materials to create water filters, lamps or latrines, which could benefit neighborhoods that don’t have those resources readily available.
“We use these kits to spark an interest in project-based learning,” said first-place team member and economics senior Andrew De Donato.
First place received $1,500, and team members had to decide on an educational organization that would benefit from the prize money.
De Donato and global health and public policy sophomore Jenna Karp, also a member of the winning team, said they would like the STEM Pals website to become a reality and serve as a global educational resource.
Karp added she would eventually like to visit teachers in India and other countries to determine their resource needs.
“I think we’re going to talk to President Brodhead about taking this beyond the presentation,” she said.