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San Ramon: Cal High student seeks to encourage equity in STEM

Student-led organization Pi Kids expands tech education opportunities
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Sayam De poses with Sridhar Verose, vice mayor of San Ramon, with a certificate of appreciation for his efforts to promote educational equity in STEM via the non-profit Pi Kids.

When Sayam De's family moved across the country from New York to San Ramon, he found himself immersed in a heavily tech-influenced world in which STEM opportunities appeared to abound.

However, as he became increasingly aware of the educational equity gap locally and nationally, he learned that opportunities at the high-ranking San Ramon Valley Unified School District weren't just due to its proximity to Silicon Valley, and that less wealthy school districts throughout the Bay Area weren't home to the same funding and opportunities aimed at engaging students in STEM.

De and fellow student organizers are seeking to change that locally and nationally with the volunteer organization Pi Kids, seeking to expand STEM education opportunities to all students by hosting peer-taught workshops at public libraries.

"I started this organization two years ago in an effort to bring awareness to the issue of inequality in education and to be a part of the change," De said.

Now a California High School junior, De's efforts with Pi Kids -- despite being relatively recent -- are the result of having his curiosity sparked about both the STEM field and equity in education at a young age on the other side of the country.

"Ever since I was a really little kid, my father and I would make computers," De said. "He would show me the hardware components of it and we'd make projects using different computers and stuff like that that really interested me."

Later, De and his father acquired a Raspberry Pi, a small, versatile computer that caught De's interest in particular.

He went on to explore this interest in middle school, where he bonded with his computer science teacher and took all of the classes he offered.

In addition to a budding interest in computer science though, the early foundations for Pi Kids were laid with interactions between De and a former babysitter as a young child in Long Island.

"Back many years ago when I was in maybe second or third grade, back when I lived in Long Island, New York, we had the babysitter who used to babysit me until my parents would come home, and she was a highschooler and she would come from the other side of the burough and she would sometimes tell me her school doesn't have as many opportunities as we do," De said.

At the time, De said he couldn't understand why this was, and that the insight from his babysitter led him to wonder about why for years.

"She was telling me how our school district has a lot of resources and can get me a lot of exposure," De said. "So at a very young age, I really didn't know what this meant, but this really had me pondering -- like, why is this, why do they not have the resources we have?"

Several years later, De was able to find some answers to this question when he encountered a TED talk that discussed the educational equity gap on a large scale, and the impacts and root causes of it.

"I did not know what an education equity gap was then," De said. "But I know now and am happy to eliminate this issue now in the US through our Pi Kids STEM volunteering program. We host Raspberry Pi workshops in underprivileged areas to encourage students to gain interest in technologies through some fun activities like assembling Raspberry Pi and coding video games, the same way I, myself, had built interest in technology from my dad at an early elementary age."

The organization has resulted in numerous workshops, led by De and his peers, throughout Bay Area libraries near more underserved school districts in San Jose and Oakland, as well as closer to home in Dublin, and in De's former home state of New York.

De's work with Pi Kids has been recognized by a number of local libraries, as well as by Vice Mayor Sridhar Verose with a certificate of appreciation during a ceremony earlier this month.

Despite the organization's early success, De has his eyes on growing and expanding it even further, by raising funds to donate resources to local libraries, expand programming to other youth-centered organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, and ultimately make the workshops available internationally.

More information is available at theeducationalequity.com.