University STEM club to build leadership skills
2018 - 2020
Founder, Past President
Many students — especially students of STEM backgrounds — aren’t taught communication, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills while in college. These are important skills to have in the workforce or as an entrepreneur, other than technical skills, and yet weren’t taught at my university. For those who wanted to build these skills, there was no opportunity available on campus.
Ambitious Amy. University STEM student who wants to build leadership and entrepreneurial skills and collaborate with other like minded students in the aim of making a greater difference when in the workforce or running a venture. Likes learning about other entrepreneurs or tech stars such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk. Likes making things happen and working with teams to achieve great things using technology.
A club where STEM students can develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills.
Conducting 60 in-person interviews with other STEM students at my college campus validated my assumption that some students wanted to build their entrepreneurial and leadership skills. 79% of interviewees agreed that they were experiencing the same problem and felt something should be done about it.
70% of students interviewed signed up for the club’s first meeting and wished to be notified.
Smart CEO reports that
At the end of 2019, statistics showed that 82% of startups failed because of bad management and leadership inexperience.
There were at least 3,000 STEM students at my school, Florida Atlantic University, in 2018. And every year, as STEM fields grow in demand, that number is likely to increase. However, that also means more students who enter STEM jobs without proper leadership or soft skills.
Although there was a Toastmasters club at my college (Toastmasters is a club that helps people develop communication skills), it primarily had business school students, and there was no club that specifically targeted students of STEM backgrounds.
To help students improve their leadership, communication, and entrepreneurial skills, we executed the following practices in the club, some of which were added over time
We aimed to keep the club’s atmosphere supportive, casual, and friendly — so that old members could feel like part of a group of friends and so new members could feel welcomed while. This was part of the decision to hold the meetings in a small room, so that everyone had no choice but to sit beside and face each other — even the furniture was very casual. Everyone was encouraged to get better, and all members were encouraged to offer empathetic feedback where they saw something could be improved.
Each new member filled out a survey which let us know their strengths, interests, and personality — so that we could work with them accordingly and understand their goals within the club.
In the beginning of the year, when all the members were new, we referenced the survey feedback and put members together in small competitive challenges based on aligned strengths to help them gel and get to know one another more easily.
To recruit more members for the club, we advertised at promotional events and hung flyers to let potential students know about upcoming club events, such as our Speaker Series talks or coding workshops.
When the club went virtual due to the 2020 pandemic, we decided to use Discord to conduct our meetings, as opposed to hosting them on Zoom, to keep the atmosphere casual.
To ensure that the club grew and retained its members, we regularly collected feedback from students via interviews or surveys.
At the end of the club’s first year, we learned that members enjoyed the Speaker Series presentations and wanted more for the year after. They also wanted more opportunities to put notable accomplishments on their resumes, to show validation of their skills and achievements.
So, at the beginning of the second year, we gave students the opportunity to work on group projects related to their STEM discipline and compete in the university’s tech entrepreneurship competitions. This was a chance to demonstrate their leadership AND engineering skills, add a specific accomplishment on their resumes, and work towards a tangible goal.
Achieving success meant that members:
To validate whether or not our efforts were succeeding
By the end of 2.5 years of running the club
In addition, we had a total of 10+ entrepreneurs and tech company leaders coming to speak to our members.
During the 2020 pandemic, when we had to meet virtually, we learned that students were getting bored with the technical presentations and weren’t feeling as engaged — especially as it’s much easier to get distracted online. So to get members more engaged, we had everyone involved in debates around controversial topics in science and technology. The debates proved effective in incentivizing members to pay attention and be involved at all times, given that there was an element of competition involved.
Though I’ve left the club to focus on other pursuits, it is still running and I will continue to use the lessons learned while growing it towards other projects and endeavors, especially those that involve working with other people.
Primary research, secondary research, concept direction synthesis, competitor analysis, usability testing.