When adults power up the jet and invite students on board, the sky is the limit. That’s exactly what Li Liu was already doing for her own children when she decided to open up her heart to other community youth.

Determined to set her son and daughter on the path to success, Liu introduced them both to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) at an early age through robotics. When her son hit middle school, Liu’s family got involved in Los Altos Botball Robotics, an educational program designed to engage middle and high school students in a team-oriented robotics competition.

Kids at the Y Full Steam Ahead Program

The organization allows students to learn by doing and explore technology in a team environment. Since joining, Liu and her family have been loyal to Los Altos Botball Robotics, as the program has helped her children enhance their academic and social skills.

Amidst all of her children’s academic success, Liu felt something was missing. She set out to add a life lesson to their extracurricular activity list – giving back to the community. Liu recognized that her son and daughter’s talents as successful STEAM students was due in large part to the experiences they had been given to learn and grow at a young age, so she sought to give that same opportunity to others.

Motivated to make an impact alongside her children to demonstrate the rewards of giving, Liu reached out to Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto YMCA with an idea to bring robotics programs to the community. Working closely with Y staff, the Y Full STEAM Ahead program launched in 2017. Every summer since, Liu has rallied youth and adult volunteers from the Botball Robotics community to share time, energy, and resources with East Palo Alto youth. One parent volunteer built a robotics table with his own two hands for Y students to learn and experiment on.

Participants are learning applicable STEAM skills that could inspire career dreams. Liu explains, “It’s a good introduction program for the kids to understand robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Robotics skills will help you succeed and AI is crucial in every tech field in the world right now. It’s really good for the kids to get equal exposure to understand what AI can do. This is great exposure for them to understand all the different things they can do with this type of knowledge.”

The Y Full STEAM Ahead Program

The Y Full STEAM Ahead program offers more than just academics, as teenage volunteers teach robotics and coding skills to their peers. By having teens teach teens, underserved youth are empowered to explore STEAM in a safe environment. They gain the confidence needed to try new things academically, and reach outside their comfort zone. At the same time, young leaders like Liu’s son and daughter build confidence as leaders by engaging and educating peers.

2018 marks the second summer of the Y Full STEAM Ahead Program and Liu has seen so much progress in program participants robotics and coding skills that she thinks they could enter a local robotics competition as a team, representing Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto YMCA. As summer comes to a close, all youth involved emerge empowered young leaders, ready to make a difference in the world and succeed academically this fall.