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Virginia Tech, Qualcomm open Thinkabit Lab to bring hands-on STEM learning to students and training to teachers

September 5, 2016

Using imagination and creativity, middle-school-aged participants from National Capital Region schools create, code, and collaborate to build a “Robo Craft” with electronic equipment, including laptop computers, Arduinos, servos, resisters, circuits, LEDs, breadboards, and solar panels.

Students programming in the Thinkabit lab
Using imagination and creativity, middle-school-aged participants from National Capital Region schools create, code, and collaborate to build a “Robo Craft” with electronic equipment, including laptop computers, Arduinos, servos, resisters, circuits, LEDs, breadboards, and solar panels.

Virginia Tech and Qualcomm Inc. begin a multiyear collaboration this fall with the launch of the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church.

The Thinkabit Lab experience offers both teachers and students an engaging learning environment — part lab, makerspace, and classroom — to foster creativity, collaboration, and the critical skills necessary for the 21st century. The new Thinkabit Lab is led by Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, based on Qualcomm’s World of Work and STEM coursework.

Residing in the National Capital Region, the lab is Qualcomm’s first outside of San Diego, servicing underserved students, students underrepresented in STEM careers, and teachers from the metro Washington, D.C. area. For some students, the Thinkabit Lab experience will offer a first introduction to hands-on STEM learning and real-world careers.

Jim Egenrieder (center), director of the Thinkabit Lab at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center, joins hands with students to create a human circuit that helps them understand the flow of electricity.

Creating the human circuit
Jim Egenrieder (center), director of the Thinkabit Lab at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center, joins hands with students to create a human circuit that helps them understand the flow of electricity.

“The work that Qualcomm and Virginia Tech are doing at the new Thinkabit Lab is remarkable,” said Steve Mollenkopf, chief executive officer of Qualcomm. “Beyond being a space to inspire the next generation of inventors, it will allow to us to leverage the expertise of both organizations, and through research and practical application, we will bring new advancements to STEM education at all levels.”

The lab will serve as a cornerstone facility, leveraging Virginia Tech’s academic depth in engineering and education, to develop educators who may lead further Thinkabit-inspired, innovative STEM experiences in schools and community programs. Additionally, faculty research will assess how the program impacts students’ access to STEM teaching and learning activities, and awareness of STEM education and career options. The findings will help to continue developing  the Thinkabit Lab and STEM programs.

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“We know that STEM skills can enhance every student’s future, regardless of their field of study, and we need to prepare both students and teachers to address the complex challenges of tomorrow,” said Tim Sands, president of Virginia Tech. “The Thinkabit collaboration with Qualcomm will allow us to join complementary strengths and work synergistically to create opportunities and lower barriers.”

The original Thinkabit Lab has served more than 8,000 students and educators since launching at Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters in 2014, and has been replicated in three middle schools and a library in San Diego.

Immobile toys are deconstructed, designed, and programmed by the students to construct a moving “Robo Craft.”

Robo Crafts
Immobile toys are deconstructed, designed, and programmed by the students to construct a moving “Robo Craft.”

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