“I remember putting together these little robots, setting them down on the table and just watching them run,” said Alexander Ford, a rising sophomore in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. “That was 10 years ago, and it’s still stuck with me.”

This defining moment that set Ford on the path to becoming an electrical engineer came about at the very first Kids’ Tech University (KTU) — an educational program geared toward giving local grade schoolers unique, hands-on experiences in the sciences.  

Since launching in 2007, demand for this program has skyrocketed, and KTU has expanded to serve thousands of kids throughout the commonwealth. Now, a decade later, you can find some of the inaugural class of KTU “graduates” back at Virginia Tech as college students, eager to pass on their passion for science on to a new generation.  

“It’s exciting to see these students coming back, and not only are they majoring in a STEM field, they’re actively seeking to volunteer and give other students the same KTU experience that inspired them,” said Kristy Collins, director of education and outreach at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech.

This push to make KTU accessible to as many students as possible will culminate with a flash-fundraising campaign on Virginia Tech’s new crowdfunding platform. Faculty, students, and alumni will lead the 45-day effort to raise $6,000 — funds that will allow KTU to reach a whole new audience: high schoolers.

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“Students at that age are making critical discoveries about what interests them and the professional path they want to take,” said Collins. “We keep hearing from parents and teachers that their students just don’t ‘see themselves’ in the sciences. We know KTU can help bridge that gap.”

Those who do make that leap have outstanding prospects for long-term success, as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are some of the fastest-growing job sectors in the world. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be 1.4 million job openings for computer specialists by 2020. American universities are only expected to produce enough qualified graduates to fill 29 percent of those jobs.

Heather Robinson, a rising sophomore majoring in computer science, is well positioned to become one of those in-demand job candidates. She credits KTU with introducing her to a community of positive, professional role models.

“It’s different from other science programs because it targets a much more diverse group of students,” said Heather. “Being a woman in the sciences, you’re sometimes made to feel like the ‘odd one out,’ but never at KTU.”

Heather’s mother, Virginia Tech alumna and veterinarian Gina Robinson, agrees that empowering young scholars to realize their potential in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Every Hokie should strongly consider supporting Kids' Tech,” said Gina. “I now have a student here as a sophomore in a great science degree that she will use every day for the rest of her life. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The Kids’ Tech University crowdfunding campaign will run through Nov. 17. Supporters can contribute a gift of any amount and help promote the program on Facebook and Twitter by visiting the project’s homepage

Written by Dan Rosplock

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