After six years of teaching science and math in New Orleans public schools, Todd Wackerman was beginning to realize how little equipment his schools had — and these deficits made it nearly impossible to provide students with quality learning opportunities in STEM fields. From that realization came the launch of STEM Library Lab. This nonprofit lends science equipment to New Orleans schools so that they can access tools they need to get students involved and interested in science.
According to CNN, STEM jobs are growing at rate of 1.6% compared to non-STEM jobs. However, United States public schools are not producing enough students either interested or qualified STEM students to fill these job spots.
It makes a huge difference for a student to actually be able to dissect a frog or model a scenario with magnets and iron filings, as opposed to just being lectured about magnetic fields, or viewing a powerpoint about body systems. Students need hands-on experience so that they can understand the true importance of STEM subjects and jobs. So many schools do not have the funds, nor teachers with the mental bandwidth after a full day of teaching students, to be able to forage for school supplies. It was these crucial problems that inspired Todd to start this lending library. The ultimate goal is a brick and mortar resource library where teachers can walk in and check out a set of thermometers and prisms, a soil sample kit, or a scale model of the human digestive system. As they build out the physical inventory, they recently went live with their Pilot Program, providing and online library where a small pilot class of teachers can reserve and borrow any equipment they need for class.
The organization incorporated about a year ago while still in the idea phase, and they launched in November with 20 Pilot members to test the final assumptions around borrowing and student need. Their library is growing as well. They just added Atwood Machines, so that the students can learn about gravitational acceleration and derive the gravitational constant through their own collected data. Just recently, a teacher rented a Vernier pH sensor for a lab testing and ranking different household beverages by acidity, to lead off a discussion about the effect of acid on our bodies.
Science equipment is expensive, and the total cost of the library inventory is over $300,000. However, using their Pilot Program model, the are able to start lean, and scale slowly. But the problem is more complex than simply access to equipment; teachers need a resource to find and filter planning resources in a productive timely way. Library Lab will be more than just a place where people can come get science supplies. It will be a community of practice. Teachers need resources for equipment usage, safety training, lab management practices, and actual lesson planning resources.
A year into the process of learning to start a nonprofit, Todd’s biggest piece of advice to those trying to start their own is, “talk to people. Reach out to people, and ask for help. This is not something one can do all by themselves. By talking to people, you discover new ideas about the problem you are trying to solve. Embrace when people challenge your solution, because if your solution is right you will be able to defend and sell it.”
STEM Library Lab found ExemptMeNow through one of our investors, Elliott Edwards. Todd explained to him that he had looking into starting his nonprofit, but the paperwork process and bureaucracy was overwhelming and confusing. Elliott knew EMN would be perfect for his predicament, and that is when he came to us. Since then, he says it has been a breeze. Todd describes it as, “so easy, like turbotax for nonprofits!” For more information about the STEM Library Lab, check out their website and their Facebook page. To learn more about starting your own nonprofit, check out our blog and our website.