sanjana ryali

Sanjana Ryali (left), Indian American founder of the nonprofit Learning Landmark. (photo provided)

Imagine learning to create algorithms for better music playlists or prototyping and manufacturing a new running shoe – at the age of 12. Traditionally, academic training for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has focused on college students. However, research (https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-020-00207-6) shows that STEM career training should start much earlier – ideally in middle school. This kind of head start is especially important for minority students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.

Learning Landmark is a nonprofit organization working to cultivate a love for technology and computer science in students and to encourage them to pursue their interests and careers in these fields. As an Indian American junior at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., and the founder of Learning Landmark, I believe that nurturing an interest in science, math, and technology during the critical middle school period will help students to better see themselves as leaders of tomorrow.

Learning Landmark is helping to create the next generation of innovators and problem-solvers by delivering STEM experiences to communities underrepresented in STEM. I and my team of six volunteers work with schools and individual students across the San Francisco Bay Area to deliver science kits that provide engagement and hands-on learning. The kits contain all the materials needed and a lesson plan with easy-to-follow instructions. These lessons are offered in online and off-line formats, free of cost, to seven participating schools.

Learning Landmark has provided over 1,000 science kits to students at various Bay Area institutes like ACE Inspire Academy, ACE Esperanza Academy, Family Connections, Aspire Richmond School, San Jose Tully Library, and numerous schools in the Fremont and San Jose school districts. They have reached 107 students, ranging from 6-14 years old, as part of their STEM education initiative.

The efforts of Learning Landmark have been graciously recognized by participating schools.

“This year Family Connections partnered with Learning Landmark to help our Young Scholars, students ages 6-12, gain experience in STEM fields. It has been great to see our students getting excited about topics like mechanical and aerospace engineering! This program has given our students an opportunity to explore different STEM concepts while having fun and interacting with their knowledgeable instructor and their peers,” said Giannina Cadenas, Young Scholars and Alumni coordinator at Family Connections.

Science teachers like Stephaney Wilson from Aspire Academy were extremely impressed with the content of the Learning Landmark lessons. “We had a lot of GEARED UP learning today with Sanjana introducing us to Simple Machines!! We learned about simple machines ranging from screws to pulleys (just like an elevator), building gears, and about possible careers in building robotic arms,” said Wilson.

To raise funds to buy and build more science kits, I have conducted online coding camps during school breaks. During the coding camps I teaches kids Python and Scratch programming. I have also raised funds by selling my kits. I also plan to seek corporate sponsorship to help fund these initiatives.

Recently, I also conducted a Learning Landmark Science Fair, in which students came up with their own science experiments and presented them to each other and to judges. They applied the scientific method that they had learned during their Learning Landmark workshops. Through this competition, I hoped that the students would demonstrate the ability to transfer their newfound skills to the real world.

I would like to extend the contributions of Learning Landmark all over the country and even all over the world.

I am currently in the process of expanding my organization to reach kids in other countries including India, Thailand, New Zealand and UAE. I will continue to encourage kids to expand their love of science and to go into STEM careers. I further plan to adapt lesson plans to elementary kids, and to include art as a part of the offering to create a STEAM curriculum.

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