My STEM Story: Aman Shaik

Aman used his ability and passion for robotics to teach workshops and bridge cultural gaps.

Malala Yousafzai once stated, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” It is said that once you teach someone a concept you tend to learn the concept better.

My robotics journey started when I was a 3rd grader. I have loved building Legos as a child but watching my Legos come to life was astounding. I started to get involved in multiple robotics Lego league teams through a program called FLL (FirstLego League). Each robotic season we had a new robot with a new name and built it depending on the certain theme.

After all those many years of building robots with Legos it was time to move on to more complex robots. When I became a 7th grader, I began to build robots out of metal pieces and enrolled in First Tech Challenge.

I volunteered at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, Florida showcasing these Lego robots. Children were baffled when they saw these objects driving on the floor. At this time, I realized it was time to teach robotics in underprivileged areas.

India, a developing country, is a beautiful place. It’s a place like no other. For someone traveling there every year since a toddler it’s a place you can’t miss. I decided to serve as a youth ambassador for the North South Foundation’s APNA program. My mom is from Hyderabad, so I decided to volunteer at the Vidyaniketan School. I remember walking into the classroom and everyone standing upright as if they were soldiers and stated, “Good morning, brother!” I found this very surprising since they were relatively the same age as me.

I first began teaching 8th graders the robotics workshop. The first day they built the robots and found it fun. The boys and girls were split into separate groups and the girls built the robots faster due to their organization and cooperation. The boys group had some commotion because they were deeply engaged. The next day we programmed the robots using the software on the computers I had brought.

One thing that stood out to me was the pride they showed when they finished. It was such a great thing to see. The boys and girls individually showed the principal their robot and how it moved.

Word about the workshop grew quickly. The 9th graders saw the robots and wanted to participate. They individually talked to the academic director and stated that they wanted to experience this workshop. They were given the chance and I did the same workshop for the 9th graders.

They asked me if I knew Hindi and Urdu. It was a big deal for them to see someone their age but from a different country. I felt great that I had helped some kids that did not have the learning experiences I had as a child.

Overall, The Congressional Award has motivated me to give back to the global community. It is a humbling experience to have the opportunity to help others and to make a difference. The Congressional Award opened my eyes regarding time management and tracking. I now keep track of not just my volunteer, personal development, and physical fitness but also time spent on academics, with friends and family, etc.

I made new friends overseas and made an impact on over 50 kids the same age as me. What I did was a simple thing that anyone can do. Anyone can change someone’s life for good.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Luke Jankowski

Luke harnessed his environmental science studies to provide disaster relief and build stronger communities.

Many of my Voluntary Public Service activities involved STEM. Volunteering as a hurricane relief worker in New Orleans through Camp Restore serves as an example. I used carpentry and engineering to rebuild and provide maintenance of homes for under-served people who suffered severe damage to their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.

One homeowner had been the victim of a contractor who had been paid to re-build her home but had re-used wet, ruined insulation resulting in severe mold growth throughout her house. Working with others, I demolished the interior walls and ceiling of her four-room, one-story house, removed the offensive insulation and then installed clean, dry insulation, carried, placed, and nailed new dry-wall, and then taped and plastered the walls and ceilings.

Through this experience, I learned not only carpentry and engineering skills but also how to work safely on a construction site.

In Puerto Rico, my group partnered with a local grassroots organization named CAMBU to work on projects designed to aid the local community as it struggled to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

In particular, CAMBU acquired an abandoned school and surrounding land with the goal of turning it into a multi-purpose community center with a kitchen, garden, and meeting center for the people of Las Marias. One of my projects included making the empty kitchen utilitarian by constructing shelving units through cutting planks, assembling them into shelves and painting them.

In creating a community garden with the people of Las Marias for the purpose of providing fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and a meeting location, I weeded, tilled, terraced, and fertilized the soil on a hillside with others and was then tasked with determining the best lay-out for the fruit trees, vegetables, and sitting areas. I dug holes for and planted numerous banana trees to provide shade as well as fruit. I then established, leveled, and stabilized the area for the sitting benches and finally placed the benches.

During this process I learned a farming technique known as the “crescent moon” where a hole in the shape of a crescent moon is dug for the plant to be placed because, when rainwater falls, the design of the hole makes it so that the soil around the base of the plant does not flood and creates soil stability, especially on a hillside.

Most recently, I volunteered at Third Street Elementary School in Los Angeles to help educate students on environmental science by applying concepts I learned in my high school class. I created a fun, informative PowerPoint for the third-grade students and, with them, assembled a self-sustaining Eco-Zone System to demonstrate how the three primary environments interact with each other.

Furthermore, I helped reclaim lost garden space and created an eco-friendly area that utilizes rainwater capture systems to water vegetation and serves as an outdoor learning area. I learned how to better apply STEM concepts I learned in my environmental science course, such as how to retain and reuse rainwater, to real life situations.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Krishna Parikh

Krishna Parikh analyzed DNA sequences for her Congressional Award Personal Development goal.

While striving to achieve The Congressional Award Gold Medal, I tapped into my interest in genetic engineering, research, and science in general.

As part of the Authentic Science Research class at my high school, I was able to participate in hands-on laboratory work. We correlated with the Waksman Student Scholars Program at Rutgers, following their procedures and techniques.

The current project is to focus on the DNA sequences of the duckweed plant Landoltia punctata and to further analyze the genes they are associated with. Duckweed is of interest because of its use in bioremediation and its potential in being a biofuel. Through this project, it is hoped that the genes compare to those found in other species.

Each of the students, including me, participate by isolating and sequencing genes from a cDNA library. These sequences have not been determined yet, so if a student successfully analyzes one, it will be published in GenBank. By comparing these sequences to similar ones of other eukaryotes, we are able to understand the evolutionary relationship between the two. This was accomplished through multiple lab days and through multiple hours sequencing on the DNA Sequencing Analysis Program (DSAP).

To increase these newly acquired skills, I attended a meeting at GenSpace in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting pertained to Optogenetics, which is a genetic tool that makes cells responsive to light.

Through the various experimentation, the end goal is to perfect an optogenetic system in which different colors of light shine onto a petri dish and cause the bacteria to respond. This response can lead to bacteria photographs with high resolution and the control of gene expression and useful enzymes, such as Taq Polymerase, in 2D.

By spending time with professionals and learning in the lab, I perfected my pipetting skills and better understood proper lab technique. I also learned how to transfer bacteria, making it anti-resistant to antibiotics such as ampicillin and kanamycin.

The most unfamiliar concept I worked with, regarding the optogenetic systems, was the on-off ratios. This ratio determines the resolution of a bacterial photograph produced by comparing the parts of the petri dish where light was directed to the parts where it was not. It is measured in Miller Units and requires the usage of a spectrometer that tells us the wavelengths of the produced light.

As the youngest in this class, it is difficult to fully understand what is going on at all times. This allows me to challenge myself and forces me to think beyond my comfort zone. I still attend these classes monthly, and I cannot wait to see the developments made.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Juan Aleman

2019 Gold Medalist Juan Aleman uses STEM skills to educate others and grow personally

While working towards my Congressional Award Gold Medal, I dedicated 385 hours as the head programmer, lead robot driver, and co-captain of the 4-H robotics team G-FORCE. My team works out of Accident, MD, but we also participate in numerous Community Outreach events globally.

SuGO, a game with sumo wrestling robots, is one of the most popular STEM activities and the reason I became interested in STEM. Utilizing SuGO, virtual reality, rockets, WeDO, and many other STEM activities, I volunteered at the West Virginia Children’s Hospital, Maryland State Fair, Mineral State Stem Festival, and 4-H Volunteer Forum.

I have had the opportunity to be the referee and robot and field inspector at FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Qualifiers and State Championships in three different states. All of these activities are free STEM activities available to the public.


The most memorable STEM events were the military activities, the largest of which was the Air Force STEM initiative. Team G-FORCE was given a budget of $250,000 to buy, package, and ship STEM products to over 52 Air Force bases. We live streamed webinars taught by the team members on how to use the STEM kits. The team also hosted two one-week residential Navy STEM camps where forty 4-Hers from bases abroad (Japan, Bahrain, and Italy) and domestic (Georgia) were taught lessons on hardware and software by me and my fellow mentors.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the USA Science & Engineering Festival where I volunteered at three booths: FIRST, 4-H, and Maker Space. While there, I demonstrated the robotics competition, lead the Junk Drawer Robotics, and ran the software that cut vinyl stickers, adding additional creativity to the patrons’ work.

Following this year’s festival, I joined my 4-H robotics coach in a special project where we learned a new programming language together. We were tasked by the Oakland Lions Club to create a belt sander race for their jubilee that they could use for years.

Last year my FIRST Tech Challenge team had a very intuitive program for our robot. It was able to make decisions about which claw to open and close and how high to raise its arm, based on simple choices made by me and my co-pilot. This year we plan to make the robot even smarter. As head programmer, I have already moved on from using pre-programmed vision software, to creating a custom image processing pipeline.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Othoniel Batista Sinclair

Othoniel of Silver Spring, Maryland applies his love for STEM towards his Congressional Award goals.

I began participating in STEM three years ago with an Air Force camp at Joint Base Andrews. There they taught us how to create music beats, build 3D images, and write programs.

Then I joined Maryland Metro Warriors, a STEM oriented program affiliated to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Through this program I participated in scrimmages and several robotics competitions at the state and national level. Our High School team competed  at the NSBE National Convention in Pittsburgh last year placed 5th.


I am currently the Vice-President of the NSBE Junior Chapter “The Dynamic Mathematical Visionaries,” out of Howard University. Here I am involved with Vex Robotics team. Our chapter participated in the 2018 Fall Regional Conference (FRC) and was able to compete with the Howard University Math Competition Team!

My passion is building robots and I look forward to attending an engineering university where I can build robots that can help us improve our environment and save our planet. I have learned to work as a team with others and join ideas to come up with great projects. Teamwork and respect has been critical to the success of our team.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.