From Student to STEAM Educator to Entrepreneur
If you’re in and around the SOLIDWORKS community lately, you’ve probably heard about an engineering-minded young woman making a name for herself in the STEAM education arena: Danielle Boyer. She’s presented at 3DEXPERIENCE World, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and hosted innumerable school visits, student workshops, and online classes teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) to kids of all ages – that’s just in the past six months.
But it’s not just these recent events and classes; over the past two years, Danielle has also launched a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting STEAM education and to distributing free robotics kits to kids under her “Give Every Kid a Robot” initiative. She’s also written and developed a series of STEAM education books, and recently run a successful crowdfunding campaign to source and distribute educational books to Indigenous Navajo communities in her home state of Michigan.
In between all of the above, she has managed to graduate from high school and enroll in university.
It’s a huge undertaking for anyone, but Danielle, at 19 years old, is not only managing it, she wants to do more.
Danielle Boyer on stage with Suchit Jain, VP of Dassault Systèmes, at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2020. (Image courtesy of Danielle Boyer.)
From Homeschool Student to STEAM Educator
The daughter of an electrical engineer father and an artist mother, Danielle grew up with influences from both sides of her brain. She was homeschooled for the early part of her education, which gave her unique opportunities to start on her path to STEAM education early.
“I started teaching when I was ten years old,” Danielle relates. “There weren’t many opportunities for people like my younger sister in areas like science, or technology and robotics, so I wanted to teach an animal science class in my homeschool group. I asked my mom, ‘What if I taught a science class? I could do coloring sheets, I could give them animal puppets.’ And she said, ‘Go ahead.’” Danielle laughs. “I don’t know why she let me; I was ten.”
That first teaching experience was with a kindergarten group for the entire semester, and she easily cites this experience as the beginning of her STEAM education journey.
The rest of her elementary school years included leading a variety of other STEAM activities, such as starting a student robotics team for her younger sister.
By the time she reached high school age, Danielle wanted to enter the public school system—mostly for the greater opportunity to pursue robotics and engineering, but also to engage with students her own age. She entered public school halfway through sophomore year, and immediately joined the student FIRST robotics team, Benzene Bots. She also started more than 20 STEM initiatives in her community, specifically geared towards robotics for kids to address a lack of resources and access to learning these skills.
Danielle believes it is the combination of homeschooling plus public school which has given her the foundation needed to succeed with all her projects.
“The combination has really contributed to who I am today,” Danielle says. “I’m able to put myself out there, and I have a lot more confidence because of public school. But I have a lot more art skills, engineering skills, admin skills from homeschooling. Both have melded together to help me get my work done.”
“I think it’s especially important to teach CAD, to teach electrical engineering, to teach computer science all at once. Those are very important skills, technical and digital, that kids need in this day and age,” says Danielle. (Image courtesy of Danielle Boyer.)
And it’s a lot of work—in the past two years, Danielle has run countless workshops and school visits to teach kids robotics, design, and engineering skills, along with travelling for conference presentations. But it’s the non-profit STEAMconnection.org, and the Give Every Kid a Robot initiative, that are currently making the biggest waves.
So, why pursue the path of a STEAM educator at 19 years old?
“I’ve been outreach-minded, and education-minded, and engineering-minded my entire life,” Danielle says. “If I see a problem in my community, I don’t want to just talk about it, I want to actually do something about it.”
“It’s why I created Every Kid Gets a Robot [EKGAR], so that kids could have a very comprehensive way of working in engineering,” she explains. “I think it’s especially important to teach CAD, to teach electrical engineering, to teach computer science all at once. Those are very important skills, technical and digital, that kids need in this day and age.”
Non-Profits, Robotics, and More
Access and affordability of STEAM education has been the driving force behind most of Danielle’s initiatives. Until recently, most of the work has been done by Danielle, as many of her initiatives—including EKGAR and the online classes and workshops—began during her time at high school through the Benzene Bots robotics team.
“I realized a better idea would be if I just started an organization and ran it myself,” Danielle relates. “I’m going to be able to reach more people with an organization. I’m going to be able to bring in volunteers. I’m going to be able to do the projects that I’m passionate about.”
The result is STEAMconnection.org. Founded by Danielle, the non-profit is dedicated to creating diverse and inclusive STEAM education materials, and making them affordable and accessible to students across the country, with an emphasis on including girls, and Black and Indigenous kids.
“I never expected it to get to this point; I always saw it as just volunteering, and thought, ‘I can only do so much.’” Danielle says. “But then I realized I can do way more if I have an actual organization, and an actual mission. I can apply to grants and actually get funding. I can get help, and teach classes.” She is also able to offer opportunities to other students who are interested in STEAM education, such as bringing on high school students as volunteers to work with the younger kids.
Most of Danielle’s initiatives are now run through STEAMconnection and the organization’s website, including access to online workshops and classes, a five-book STEAM education series, and Every Kid Gets a Robot.
Every Kid Gets a Robot is a program that provides affordable 3D-printed robots free to kids. Designed and developed by Danielle, these robots cost $18.95 to make, and are geared toward teaching kids valuable technical skills related to electrical and mechanical engineering, robotics, and computer science through project-based learning.
The sub-$20 price point is the highlight of EKGAR, because it offers affordable access to this kind of robotics-based educational tool. Most educational robotics kits on the market are expensive, prices driven up with markups in the supply chains. “Currently, there are no robot kits on the market that, at this price point, teach assembly, programming, electrical engineering, all at once and in a comprehensive way,” says Danielle.
Danielle designed the three-wheeled robot for her Every Kid Gets a Robot initiative using SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE. The $18.95 price-point makes EKGAR an accessible and affordable teaching tool for introducing kids to STEAM. (Image courtesy of Danielle Boyer.)
“I was looking at parts and looking at other robots on the market. With a lot of robots, the price is marked up. I thought, ‘Well, probably the part cost is lower. I think it’s possible to make something affordable, that anyone for the same price can make anywhere in the world. I think I can make something for under twenty dollars,’” Danielle says. “And that was my starting goal.”
After that came a lot of trial and error to find parts that would come together to create the robot that Danielle imagined. CAD and 3D printing became a key part of the development process.
Danielle used SOLIDWORKS to design the 3D-printable chassis and wheels for the robot.
“I got my start in 2D drawing, because my dad’s an electrical engineer,” Danielle relates. She first got into CAD software while being homeschooled, when her friend on robotics teams used CAD software to create their designs. Then Danielle joined her own robotics team in high school and got her own SOLIDWORKS license.
The more she learned about SOLIDWORKS, and everything available such as the SOLIDWORKS App for Kids, the more Danielle wanted to do with it. “I realized I can teach with this, and use the app as a pathway to teach kids to use SOLIDWORKS. I use the 3DEXPERIENCE platform as well, and there’s just so much potential there.”
Learning how to use SOLIDWORKS to design wheels for the Every Kid Gets a Robot. (Image courtesy of Danielle Boyer.)
Along with using SOLIDWORKS to design the EKGAR bot, Danielle uses SOLIDWORKS with the students who participate in classes and workshops. “With the older kids, I’ll work on SOLIDWORKS with them, and teach them how to model the robot from scratch. For the younger kids, they will use the SOLIDWORKS App for Kids, and be designing their own wheels,” she says.
Looking Forward to the Future
So, what’s next for Danielle?
“I love being able to expand my platform to reach more kids. That’s ultimately what I care about, and it’s really cool that I have the opportunity to do that, especially through companies like Dassault Systèmes,” she says.
Right now, Danielle almost singlehandedly runs the EKGAR project. She has had support from Dassault Systèmes and the SOLIDWORKS community with the robot assembly event held at 3DEXPERIENCE World under the SOLIDWORKS for Good banner, and someone in the SOLIDWORKS user community donating an HP Jet Fusion 3D printer for Danielle to use to print the chassis and wheels.
Robots built for Every Kid Gets a Robot, during the SOLIDWORKS for Good event at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2020. (Image courtesy of Danielle Boyer.)
She’s currently working on a sustainable distribution model where she would make one robot to sell at twice the price so that another robot could be donated. “But I need to scale my manufacturing capabilities significantly to be able to do that, so I’ve been working on grant writing,” Danielle says.
“In the sustainable distribution model I’m working on, I want to design my own PCBs and motors, and manufacture them myself so that I have almost infinite, scalable potential,” she continues. “That way I can expand as much as I want to, without a company saying, ‘Sorry, we don’t make X amount of this.’ So I want to create my own robot components, but that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.”
“In the future, I want to gradually make it more and more my own, so that I have nothing in my way from getting kids these robots,” Danielle adds.
She’s also currently enrolled in a university with a double major in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, with a minor in physics.
“I took a gap year after high school, so I could get my robots to kids, and so I could start my non-profit,” Danielle says. She also took this past semester off while she traveled for teaching her robotics classes, and presenting at 3DEXPERIENCE World, among other activities. “I’m in the middle of my third semester, so I’m still in the beginning of college.”
“But I want to get a Ph.D. in bio-robotics, and I want to work on emulating biological organisms in robots. That’s what I want to do for a living, along with non-profits, of course.”