Public and private school students in grades nine through 12 can experience five days of hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction at the fifth Hack<IT>Bahamas camp this summer, which challenges Bahamian youth to create and pitch their startups.
The camp, which has a focus on developing technology-based startups, will give participants the opportunity to apply their knowledge to an issue of social impact within The Bahamas and compete for a cash prize.
“We are honored to continue to highlight the ingenuity of Bahamian youth,” said Aisha Bowe, Bahamian-American aerospace engineer and founder of STEMBoard, a technology solutions company that creates smart systems and software solutions for government and large-scale private-sector clients.
The fifth edition of the camp takes place July 24–27 at St. Andrew’s School, with sessions beginning daily at 9 a.m. A culminating competition and awards ceremony, which is open to the public, is set for Saturday, July 28 at 10 a.m.
Committed to closing the achievement gap, STEMBoard empowers historically underrepresented youth to build transformational technologies. Through demonstration-based technical curricula for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and college, the STEMBoard engineering team designs and delivers activities that mirror real-world challenges.
“Hack<IT> for Bahamian youth is an incredible opportunity,” said Bowe. “We mix public and private school kids together from multiple islands, and we expose them to a technology curriculum that challenges them to create startups that in some way will elevate and affect the Bahamian life. It’s been incredible to watch what the students have continued to do after they’ve graduated, in addition to those that have heard about the camp.”
Bowe said their annual goal is 100 students for camp participation, and they hope for a 50/50 split between public and private sector children.
“One of the things that’s really important for me is for students to understand that they can be entrepreneurs and technologists now. I’m not saying don’t go get that four-year degree — but you can build and generate revenue through a company that you own now. And the principles that we levered, which are really basic, help them as entrepreneurs to come up with ideas. They vet the ideas, and then they compete.”
In previous years, first through third place camp finishers would be provided with cash prizes so that they could take their ideas to the next stage. Every team has to create a prototype; they show their prototypes and their business plans, and Hack<IT> provides funding to enable them to build the ideas out. Bowe said it is her hope and the hope of fellow camp organizers that, through their efforts, they can start to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in The Bahamas.
Bowe noted Asha Collie, who attended the camp for multiple years, is now studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University. She credits the exposure she received at the camp with inspiring her to pursue her course of study.
The camp does not require students to have any interest in engineering or science as a prerequisite to participate.
“I have students right now who were winners three years ago, who have continued to build out their idea for a buoy system. Their idea was Bahama Buoy, and what they wanted to do was help the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in areas where it may not have ships, identify migration of illegal narcotics, so they created a buoy system that could then relay whenever they would see something that was suspicious to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. They have now gone ahead, proposed a prototype, and have set about building and delivering this for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. So we have a wide variety of students who are not only studying engineering at some of the United States’ top institutions, the students who have taken the next step to continue with their group, and built companies from this exposure. It’s been incredible to watch what the students have continued to do after they’ve graduated,” she said.
Hack<IT> is open to students from any island, as long as they can secure accommodation on New Providence. Campers are provided with all the materials they need, as well as lunch.
“We are able to provide this free of charge to the students, and I really don’t want any of them to miss out on the opportunity to attend. There is really nothing that they have need of during the camp, other than to show up and be attentive,” said Bowe.
Bowe encouraged the public to attend the Saturday finale to take in what the students have to offer, and the pitch competition.
“They can come and see what the future of Bahamian ingenuity and innovation looks like, and I promise they will be shocked. I’ve had students say they’re going to put sensors on drones so they can measure the level of carcinogens in the air for the dump fires that have occurred near Aquinas [College], to students that have suggested that we use infrared light to do early detection of breast cancer in a low-cost way. When you hear what the students are coming up with, you would be shocked that we do not have our own innovation/research park environment within The Bahamas,” said Bowe.
Since its inception, nearly 400 students throughout the Caribbean have participated in programs designed and executed by STEMBoard and its partners. Past keynote speakers have included Barrington Irving, the first Jamaican and the first black man to fly around the world by himself, and astronaut Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., the first African-American to walk in space.
Sponsors of Hack<IT> include Aliv, Bahamas Power and Light Company (BPL) and the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).