The 2017 SPARC: A Celebration of Innovation showcased the talent and creativity of student programmers, designers, artists, entrepreneurs, roboticists, and collaborators.
During the 2016-2017 school year, Marlborough’s STEM+ classes saw a surge in student interest, with the robotics team doubling in size and the creation of a brand new Entrepreneurship curriculum. Additionally, these classes moved into an innovative new space in the ARC (Academic Resource Center) that students named the SPARC (Special Projects in the ARC).
Acknowledging the growth of the STEM+ programs, Dean of Student Life Ms. Regina Rosi Mitchell, Math and Coding Instructor Dr. Darren Kessner, and Science Instructor and Robotics Coach Mr. Andrew Witman brainstormed opportunities for students to showcase their work. This led to the creation of a new annual event, SPARC: A Celebration of Innovation.
First Annual Event
The first SPARC event took place on campus in May of 2017, welcoming close to 200 parents, students, alumnae, teachers, and friends. The evening kicked off with introductions and advice from a panel of business leaders, including Anne Enna (Founder and Managing Director of Beal Private Capital), Peter Kim (Founder and CEO of Hudson Jeans), Anne Reifenberg (Editor of Bloomberg News), Jean Shim (Founder and CEO of Rubies + Diamonds), and Ben Yeh (Senior Investment Manager of Panda Restaurant Group).
Following the panelists’ words of wisdom for our future leaders, guests chose from a variety of student-led activities. Coding students shared games and design projects. Eighth graders presented research posters on topics including sleep and social media. Robotics captain Niki B. ‘18 and her teammate Amanda Y. ‘18 guided guests through a design-thinking project building “tasty towers” using marshmallows and spaghetti or gumdrops and toothpicks.
The robotics teams brought out their robots for a demonstration and scrimmage. “One of my favorite moments of the evening was when Amanda took the microphone and got everyone in the ARC to come over to the robotics area for the robotics demonstration and scrimmage,” says Dr. Kessner. “Seeing students get excited about showing their projects and making pitches is really what it’s all about.”
Spark Tank Competition
Our panelists then became judges of the “SPARC Tank” competition, where entrepreneurship students pitched their ideas for new products and services.
Emily Y. ‘19 won the SPARC Tank competition for her teen dating app, Swoon.
“I think Emily stood out because she pulled in anyone that would listen to her to pitch and she welcomed feedback,” says Ms. Rosi Mitchell. “She really embraced that aspect of the entrepreneurial process.”
Emily’s wholehearted dedication spoke to the judging panel as well. While the panel felt that there were several very strong pitches, Emily’s was compelling, demonstrating that teens were interested in the app, it was feasible to implement, and it could have a monetary return on the investment.
“It takes a lot of courage to put your ideas out there,” shares Ms. Rosi Mitchell, who was impressed with the students’ active engagement as well. In regards to the entrepreneurship student pitches she shares, “I think these were some of the best presentations I’ve ever seen students give. It was a capstone project and it was a great culmination of all the different skills that they learned this year.”
Inspiring New Events
Looking ahead to future innovation events, Ms. Rosi Mitchell would like to both refine and expand the SPARC Tank portion by making it an application process. If a student’s proposal is accepted in the fall, she could be paired with a mentor who would guide and support her through the pitch process, with top pitches possibly receiving a scholarship to a Los Angeles entrepreneurship event or a long-term mentor opportunity.
Additionally, Ms. Rosi Mitchell, Mr. Witman, and Dr. Kessner would like to expand the SPARC Celebration to include students’ art and design work, presentations by Honors Research participants, and additional classroom projects, like the Scratch Coding projects by physics students or the marble roller coasters built by 8th grade science students.
“There are so many natural connections. One of my big takeaways this year is that as an entrepreneur you don’t need to be an expert developer, but you do need to know the language and have a basic skillset,” says Ms. Rosi. “Or, you might develop an awesome app, but you also need skills in entrepreneurship and design to market it. I’m all for breaking down the silos so we can continue to discover these connections.”
The team would also like to look outside of Marlborough and invite other female students from across Los Angeles to collaborate and problem solve together.
Ultimately, Ms. Rosi Mitchell says the SPARC Celebration should be a dynamic evening where students can share their passions. “We want students to be excited to take these classes, because learning should be fun.”