Grow a Generation Breeds Future Engineers and App Developers

By Tyler Baum – 12th Grade, K12 International Academy

Grow a Generation has a mission statement which reads: “Make meaningful projects possible.” This simple phrase perfectly describes the goals of the organization’s summer programs, which focus on innovation and real-world application through S.T.E.M. learning. During the week of July 20-24, two classrooms of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School were taken over by nine students participating in two programs from Grow a Generation: “Engineer Your Passion” and “Mobile App Development.”

Ellen Cavanaugh, who founded Grow a Generation in 2010, ran “Engineer Your Passion,” a program which teaches motivated students in grades 6-8 face a new problem each day and use critical thinking skills and engineering to find an effective, real-world solution. For instance, to solve the problem of outreach to potential firefighters, the group of Robby, Everett, Matthew, and Jack used Scratch programming, a visual programming language created by developers at MIT, to create a computer program to recruit volunteer firefighters.

Throughout the week, “Engineer Your Passion” covered other topics such as game design, 3-D modeling, robotics, filmmaking, and clean water research. After learning basic 3-D modeling skills, students, supported by Dr. Joseph Ayoob, submitted two containers to the 3-D Space Container Challenge, sponsored by NASA.  “Engineer Your Passion” students created these containers with the goal of catering to the needs of astronauts living at the International Space Station.

The students also put their newly acquired filmmaking skills to work mid-week by entering two videos into the S.T.E.M. Uncovered – 2015 Video Competition, sponsored by the Noyce Foundation and the C.S. Mott Foundation.  By entering these contests, students had the opportunity to showcase their projects and get feedback from experts in respective fields, advancing their solution-based problem solving skills via a real-world contest.

On Friday, July 24, students took a field trip to the Brush Creek Treatment Plant in Cranberry Township, where they continued their research of possible solutions for clean water issues such as pollution and filtration.

Every student I spoke with energetically said that “Engineer Your Passion” was an invaluable experience which opened their eyes to opportunities in S.T.E.M. fields. According to Cavanaugh, Grow a Generation will continue to expand and create more educational programs next summer, and she believes “Engineer Your Passion” will draw a larger turnout every year.  She hopes her students will continue to use the skills they learned in the program to solve various real-world problems.

Projects completed in “Engineer Your Passion” are on display at www.growageneration.com.

In the other classroom at North Catholic High School, five high school students attending “Mobile App Development” worked diligently to devise a plan to use an app to solve a specific real-world problem of their choice. Led by Linda Parrish, Greater Pittsburgh’s Associate Director of Information Technologies for Verizon, each student was challenged to eventually enter his or her app into the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

The five students (Matthew, TJ, Dylan, Niko, and Ian) simultaneously worked on creating four different apps (two students worked as a team) which focused on solving real-world problems, such as increased access to video game social life, the ability for students with ADHD to complete homework in a timely and successful manner, and personalized exercise plans for arthritis patients.

According to Ms. Parrish, each student entered the program with different levels of programming expertise, but by the end of the week, all five students reaped the benefits of a hands-on learning approach and could sufficiently use MIT App Inventor to create their individual apps.  Each student plans to use their new-found programming skills in the future, and they all agreed that the program was tremendously useful in opening their eyes to new opportunities in computer programming.  Grow a Generation hopes to run “Mobile App Development” again next summer for motivated high school students looking for a challenge.

Engineeringly and technologically, motivated middle school and high school students participating in Grow a Generation programs tackled many tasks over the course of a week.  Overall, the yearning to develop real-world problem solving skills served as motivation for students in the two programs, in which they immensely advanced their knowledge and skill set in the fields of S.T.E.M. and Application Development. Grow a Generation strives to build a larger network of programs in the future to provide students with a broad knowledge of academic and career options.


Tyler Baum 1Tyler Baum is a rising senior at the K12 International Academy and is an active contributor to the iGlobe Newspaper.  He hails from Irwin, PA and plays travel ice hockey and baseball, skis, and enjoys history and visiting national parks.  He lives with a host family in the Washington, D.C. metro area to play ice hockey.

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