by Donna Michele Ramos
Square Root Academy exposes at-risk youth to the fundamentals of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through hands-on project-based learning experiences paired with STEM professionals, resembling and them leading them in these learning experiences. Didier (Dj) Theodore Mponte is the Operations Director of Square Root Academy. Mr. Mponte, Christina Carter-Brown and Nicholas Haystings are the founders. One of the main goals of the academy is to expose our communities to the ever-growing field of STEM.
THE HUB: How did the academy come together? How long have you been up and running?
MPONTE: The founding team is Christina Carter-Brown, Nicholas Haystings and myself. Christina is a USC Trojan with a BS in Computer Engineer/Computer Science. Nicholas is a CSU Salinas alumni with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I am a graduate of CSUS with a BS in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. It came together through a set of different events. Nick and I are college buddies, we have a good friendship with different organizations. We participated in community organizations together. When Code for Hood was in the planning process, Nick met Christina. We’d get together and talk about things going on in the community. We were ready to graduate, Nick spoke about the neighborhood of Meadowview and state of things in our community. He saw that STEM education was almost nonexistent; schools were totally neglected in STEM education. Lots of people can’t afford this, why isn’t there this hands-on experience in schools here. We thought we had a great solution to overcome this. If other people aren’t doing this, we need to take it upon ourselves to do it. I moved here my senior year of high school and took a robotics class, that’s how I got started. We have to be that one class for others. Two years ago, we incorporated on May 13, 2016. We’re growing a lot, lots of people are recognizing the importance of STEM. Educators want this in their classrooms. We have been very fortunate, to have people entrust in us, the responsibility to teach their scholars this. We expose academy scholars to the growing field of STEM at no cost. Our STEM enrichment series includes: innovation expeditions, community events and maker spaces. This goal is executed under our 3 key pillars – community involvement, project based learning and professional STEM exposure.
THE HUB: What have friends/sponsors done to help the academy?
MPONTE: We are fortunate to partner with the City of Sacramento, SMUD, etc. Lots of organizations believe in what we do in the community and are coming out to support in fun-engaging ways.
THE HUB: What do scholars work on at the academy?
MPONTE: Scholar Projects: The Galaxy Cloud – eases those with night terrors to transition into sleep by emitting glowing, ambient light, creating a soothing bedtime. Hydro pneumatic arm – grabs anything from soda cans and empty chip bags. A helping hand to address the problem of littering. Lasered Checkers – developed checker board using software and a laser cutter to be sent to 3D printer, to make the checker set.
THE HUB: How are the students/scholars chosen?
MPONTE: It depends on our location. We like to hold as many interviews as possible, we want to see they really want to be here. We only want people who will really give it a fair try. We understand exposure to it is key. So, we try to get in front of as many kids as possible. Also, school districts and schools pick out kids for the program too.
THE HUB: What are your long-term goals for the program?
MPONTE: To be in as many schools, neighborhoods and communities that need what we do. We aim to serve places throughout the world not just Sacramento; who have little or no information, to expose them to science and math. We want to let them know there’s this other path to take called STEM. We want to make sure they have fun while they learn. Hopefully, it bleeds into the community, so parents become more literate with computers and learn the same skill set. Everyone should have the same opportunity to learn STEM. We want to see them go through from fourth grade to high school graduation, college graduation and on to the industry. We want to help all them through that. We are also in the Woodland School District.
THE HUB: If someone wants to help, what areas do you need help in?
MPONTE: We are always looking for volunteers to give back, like events. More people who want to teach and expose scholars to STEM, graphic arts, grant writing, administrative and leadership roles. We’re always expanding to expose more kids to STEM. We started with one school, now we have 4 – 5 sites in Sacramento and one partnership in the Woodland Unified School District wide serving over 2,000 scholars annually.
THE HUB: The academy held a second Great Stem Summit in March, how was it different from the first one?
MPONTE: Last year 70-80 scholars enrolled workshops and robot battle. This year 130 enrolled in four event amplified activities: a maker’s zone – scholars and parents could do activities – make dry ice cream, program Probat friends from Sacramento State Physics Club had lots of cool gadgets also OBRA run makers space in Sacramento. We work with them on different endeavors. Lots more interactive activities than last year.
THE HUB: What are your upcoming events?
MPONTE: In March 24, 2018 we held the Great Stem Summit, 150 scholars attended. Summer 2018 Hack the Park Fest (htpfest.com), Sat. June 23, 2018 at North Laguna Park in Sacramento. We will have an innostage, innobooths, science fair exhibits, food trucks and more. This huge stem festival is the first we’re hosting for the city, between 400 – 1,000 people should be attending from: the community, and different organizations. Activities will be different STEM performances, a drone show by Intel, a very illuminated light show and drone racing. Come out to Hack the Park Fest, there will be tons of stemtastic fun.
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