“I may be small, but I can do it all.” That was the theme of Priya Gupta’s campaign slogan as she ran for office at the Delaware Technology Student Association (TSA) state competition last month. Standing at barely five feet tall, Gupta exemplified the gung-ho attitude of the nearly 900 middle school and high school students competing in the Delaware STEM contests.
Celebrating the Delaware TSA’s 40th anniversary with 35 chapters from across the state, the state conference had 1746 entries in 62 contests. Sample contests included: architecture, CAD, digital video production, dragster design, engineering design, flight, maglev vehicles, robotics, rocketry, structural engineering, system control technology and video game design. Each TSA competitive event required students to apply engineering and technology, solve technical problems, conduct research and invent solutions.
Students worked individually and in teams in the contests. The teams were often incredibly mixed, with racially diverse girls and boys working equally on solving problems. Sometimes one student would seem to lead a project, and then another student would speak up and contribute their insight.
TSA volunteer Kate Williams noted how well the students can think on their feet. Williams, an engineer for Boeing, became active in TSA about five years ago after her daughter joined a TSA chapter.
“These students are off the charts. They are so professional and get pumped up to show their skills. Sometimes they come in nervous, but they dress well and are articulate. They’re our future leaders,” remarked Williams.
Those leadership skills build continually as the kids move from middle school to high school levels within TSA, as leadership training is built into every TSA contest. Many of the students are already using their skills outside of school. Gupta uses her web design talents to build websites for local small businesses.
“My favorite thing about TSA is the leadership skills, technical skills and friendships you have the opportunity to build,” said Gupta. “I want to strengthen and expand Delaware TSA in any way I can.”
Gupta says nearly her entire friendship circle is in TSA. She advises other kids to join TSA, and she pledged that if she won election to be a state officer again, she’d develop a packet to help chapters gain more members and get existing members to participate in more competitions, fundraisers, service events and other activities.
Gupta tells her fellow students, “You don’t have to be a tech pro. You can apply your skills in different TSA events, like children’s stories and fashion design.”
When asked how to grow the program, Mike Fitzgerald, the TSA state advisor for the Delaware Department of Education, said, “What we need are more volunteers to help run competitions and direct kids to the right place within the conference. We don’t need money as much as we need volunteer time so that we can hold more competitions.”
Skip Ford from the Air Force Reserves had answered the call to volunteer and helped at his first TSA event in Delaware. Ford with two other active duty Air Force C-17 loadmasters from the Dover Air Force Base ran the flight competitions. Ford has been involved in STEM for 20 years and saw TSA as a way “to let young folk know that the military is involved in STEM and that there are lots of opportunities working in and with the military.”
Ford encouraged others to volunteer for TSA. “Stand back in amazement and watch these young folks go. They have fantastic skills and demonstrate professionalism and leadership,” said Ford.
Tech industry professionals can get involved in TSA at both the local and national level. While all the state competitions are over for this spring, the National TSA competition is in June in Atlanta. Contact Lynda Haitz to volunteer. As a TSA sponsor through NextUp, CompTIA is organizing a group of its Atlanta-based AITP members to help at Nationals. AITP members can contact Colleen Loeffler Phonwiang to learn more.
Then this fall, tech industry professionals can look to their local schools to volunteer at TSA chapters and contact their state TSA leaders to volunteer at the 2019 state competitions. The kids involved in TSA exemplify the diversity and leadership we hope to always see in the tech industry. Now, we need more tech industry professionals to step up to mentor these rising tech stars and show them the possibilities their careers could go.