White House Science Fair Presents Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity For First-Generation Students

Pictured (Left to right): Melody Kwan , LMIT InvenTeam advisor and Spanish Teacher at Baruch College Campus High School; Stephen Mwringa; Amro Halwah; Si Ya (Wendy) Ni and Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe.

Pictured (Left to right): Melody Kwan , LMIT InvenTeam advisor and Spanish Teacher at Baruch College Campus High School; Stephen Mwringa; Amro Halwah; Si Ya (Wendy) Ni and Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe.

Opportunity is perhaps the greatest possibility of the American promise. For two New York City high school  students who came to America less than ten years ago knowing very little English, opportunity led them to the White House Science Fair where they presented their subway vacuum cleaner project to President Obama with their classmate Si Ya “Wendy” Ni, a first generation college student.

One of the students, Amro Halwah, immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. He started school in the U.S. as an 8th grader and is currently a senior at Baruch College Campus High School. When he was young, he hated learning because he viewed it as only memorizing facts that he promptly forgot after taking a test.

While in school in New York, however, he started down a different path. He participated in several hands-on projects that unleashed his creativity and gave him the opportunity to engage in independent learning. When he got the chance to join the L-MIT Baruch InvenTeam this year, his desire to learn and contribute to the invention of last year’s seniors really excited him.

His participation on the team also made a difference in the community by addressing a problem through technological innovation. “I believe that people should be more circumspect about the problems they face in their daily lives because they tend to ignore problems they believe they do not have the power to solve,” he said when he reflected on his work on the team.

Stephen Mwingira, also a senior and an immigrant to the United States from Tanzania, didn’t think it was possible to set foot on American soil as recently as seven years ago. He certainly had no idea that one day he would be inside the White House. When he moved it was it one of the hardest things he had to do and he struggled to adjust to his new surroundings.

Everything changed when his mom encouraged him to join a robotics club in fifth grade, which unlocked his passion for technology and engineering. Robotics opened a whole new level of creativity for him, and his passion ultimately became a bit of an obsession. “I never thought that this obsession would one day grant me the opportunity of a lifetime: to present at the White House Science Fair,” he said.  Stephen views STEM as something positive that everyone is capable of and that can help contribute to the well-being of the community.

Students on the InvenTeam have learned that many of the problems in our world today can be solved by science and technology. They understand that the more opportunities we create for people of all ages to delve deeper into STEM, the more problems we can solve to make the world we live in better for tomorrow.

Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe is a math teacher at Baruch College Campus High School in New York, New York. She is the InvenTeam advisor and traveled with Stephen and Amro to the White House.