Little Einsteins Organization (LEO) is a chartered Georgia Tech campus organization that conducts science, technology, engineering, and math focused activities with children in Atlanta.
Each week, LEO works with more than 150 kids at various elementary schools in Atlanta. The organization has more than 100 Georgia Tech student members and nearly 2,000 followers on Instagram. Membership is open to all undergraduate and graduate Georgia Tech students.
The past two years have presented many challenges for those involved in education, but that hasn’t stopped Georgia Tech’s Little Einsteins Organization from helping provide students in K-5 schools with instruction and activities focused on STEM.
They’ve accomplished that by changing how they bring science and engineering to the kids — meeting at Hands on Atlanta for science demonstrations, and sending kits to local libraries for children and their families to take home — so that children can perform experiments found in do-it-yourself kits assembled by Georgia Tech volunteers.
“I think they have done wonderful outreach activities, and have been so creative and committed to reach out, despite the very different pandemic landscape,” says Pamela Pollet, LEO academic advisor and senior academic professional in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “This project is unique because it gives Georgia Tech students the opportunity to support the education of young children in Atlanta during a time of isolation and online schooling.”
Pollet says the pandemic hasn’t kept LEO student and instructor volunteers from keeping their commitment to Atlanta’s students, especially those in underserved communities.
And before Covid, Pollet saw firsthand LEO’s impact when volunteers helped the younger students conduct experiments in their schools. “Their friend’s volcano erupted much more than theirs. Why? What was different? ‘How come my catapult is not working?’ It is okay if it does not work — let’s take a look and think how we can make it work," she shares. "LEO members created a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere in which students were so engaged and curious.”
There was also the opportunity for Atlanta children to see future versions of themselves in the Georgia Tech students. “They recognized themselves or connected with LEO members as if they were in an age group of older sisters or brothers. It demystified the image given to a scientist or engineer.”
Olivia Gravina, a fourth-year undergraduate in the School of Mathematics, serves as LEO president for the 2021-22 school year. Gravina says one of the group’s latest efforts to get creative during Covid challenges involved putting together at-home STEM kits for kids involved in Hands On Atlanta’s "Disco" program, formerly known as the Discovery program. Disco is a Saturday morning enrichment program which currently offers STEM, social emotional learning, fitness, and health-related activities to K-5 youth across nine Atlanta-area schools.
“We made 150 homemade ice pack kits, and 150 soap Silly Putty kits,” Gravina says. Teams of LEO members made instructional videos for each of the activities which included explanations of the science behind them. Then, Tech's LEO members joined Zoom calls with students from schools involved in the Disco program.
“The young students had the opportunity to ask questions, and Georgia Tech students were able to encourage the younger students and see the impact of the kits they had provided,” Gravina shares.
Another recent activity, a collaboration with Fulton County Libraries, saw LEO members assembling kits for building small catapults, which also included instructional videos. “We delivered 620 catapult-making kits, which translates to 20 kits in each of the 31 branches of the Fulton County Library System,” Gravina explains.
“It was absolutely brilliant to use the libraries, kits and videos to maintain the excitement of hands-on experimenting,” Pollet adds.
“It was needed even more, especially for younger kids. Being virtual all day leaves many of them disconnected from the material and what science is about: Experiments, observations, questions, analysis," Pollet shares. "And again, they can connect the experiments with Georgia Tech students they can easily relate to.”
Gravina says LEO is still working through plans for the season ahead, but hopes to continue coordinating activities in Atlanta libraries. She encourages other Georgia Tech students to join those activities.
Pollet says the ability to show younger students that they could eventually pursue science careers is critical, pandemic or no pandemic.
“Young, dynamic Tech students who are doing science, and taking the time to do it with them,” Pollet says. “That is really inspiring.”