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Buffalo youth put some STEAM into their summer at Rich Products

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Nearly three dozen young people, each representing a half dozen Boys and Girls Clubs within the City of Buffalo, displayed the fruits of their summertime efforts Friday in a STEAM competition hosted by Rich Products.

For the past four weeks, 34 pre-teen boys and girls have worked on "innovation projects," conceiving and creating fictional product ideas using STEAM principles (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics). Their work included marketing strategies for those said products.

The proposals included a pair of eyeglasses that record audio and video, an oven lunchbox which helps a child safely heat a meal, a mechanism that helps a basketball player improve one's shot, a fire-extinguishing grenade, a stress-relieving virtual reality headset and what was called a digital desktop.

Aislin Russell, one of the youngsters working on the digital desktop with her peers from Butler Mitchell Boys and Girls Club, explained that it allows teachers to input information including lessons online, and eliminates the excuse by students that "the dog ate my homework."

It also provides students with available resources to help them with any questions they may have about a lesson. She called the fictional app that is part of their project "Smart Tube."

"Say I fully didn't understand what my teacher was explaining to me, about this math project we're working on. I'm able to go on Smart Tube and be able to see how you do it," Russell said. "And I can do it step by step."

Russell's primary contribution to the "desktop" was what she calls Circuit Beats, a concept in which the user electronically creates a digital object, such as an animal. She explained she's had the idea since trying a coding demonstration at Walden Galleria.

"I really enjoyed it," she said. "I already started to create Circuit Beats with my grandfather... well, not really, I just told him a little about it and he said 'uh-huh' a lot and that it was a great idea. Then, when I was chosen to be a part of the science project, I thought maybe I can bring my app to life, so I shared it with them."

Howard Rich, a vice president at Rich Products and one of the competition's judges, says there are many great ideas coming from these children. He also has a soft spot for the talent coming from boys and girls living in the city's West Side, where Rich Products is headquartered.

"They have great hearts. But you know what? They come from tough conditions," he said. "They are very much the underserved. So for the chance for them to have a summer program to keep their minds engaged and keep working on STEAM types of events, it's going to help them when they go back to school. And if they have an advantage at school, they're going to continue to do well."

The hardest part of the competition, Rich says, is having to pick just one winner. That was the oven lunchbox project, put together by a team from the Masten Boys and Girls Club. Other club branches represented in the competition were Eggertsville Youth & Community Center, William C. Baird, Babcock and John F. Beecher.

"I am not only judging, I'm also signing kids up for future contracts to come work at Rich Products," said Howard Rich with a smile. He wasn't necessarily kidding about scouting future talent in their vast atrium on this occasion.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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