Empoder was founded in the summer of 2014 while its founder, Dr. Marissa Elena Yáñez, was on vacation in Puebla, Mexico. It was during this time that Marissa visited one of the most prestigious universities in Mexico, the Universidad de las Americas Puebla (UDLAP). During her visit, Marissa was astounded that a university so rich in resources, computer labs, equipment and knowledge existed in the middle of Cholula, Mexico, one of the poorest cities in Puebla. It was then that Marissa envisioned a program where wealthy resource-rich institutions could be used to empower students from surrounding low-income communities through engineering and computer-science education.
In June of 2014, Marissa left her job as Director of External Relations with a non-profit that runs STEM education programs in Harlem, NYC and founded Empoder, a non-profit dedicated to empowering low-income communities in developing countries and in the US through computer science and engineering education. Marissa returned to Mexico and formed a partnership with the UDLAP to pilot a summer immersion program for low-income students in Cholula.
In three short weeks, Marissa recruited 7 engineering faculty and 4 undergraduate students from the UDLAP to help lead hands-on projects and activities in Coding, Robotics, Instrumentation, Water Purification, Sustainable Design, Industrial Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. Over 50 low-income students ages 8-18 from Cholula attended the free 2-week summer immersion program 5 days a week from 9-5:30 p.m.
The results of the pilot program were astounding. In interviews following the 2-week program, a majority of students admitted that they only attended because they were forced to by their parents. They had little to no interest in engineering, in fact only 18% of students expressed an interest in studying engineering or computer science prior to the two-week program.
Following the program, 100% of students expressed a strong desire to pursue a career in engineering or computer science, with interests ranging across the entire spectrum of engineering. Most surprising, was the overwhelming enthusiasm that students expressed for engineering. Their excitement for studying engineering was infectious and radiated across students, their parents, families and communities.
Empoder’s pilot program demonstrated that it is possible to engage all students of all ages in engineering and computer science if material is presented in the right way. It is also taught us how easily we can utilize local resources to educate and empower low-income communities.
We believe the key to sustainable impact is to prepare students for careers in engineering and computer science on a year-round basis. The majority of students who participated in our summer immersion program attend public schools that do not offer any type of engineering or computer science curriculum.
As a follow-up to our summer immersion program, we are currently offering two free courses in computer programming on Saturdays for students in Cholula. These classes are taught at the UDLAP by students and faculty at the UDLAP. 83% of students who attended our summer immersion program are enrolled in one of our two Saturday courses. An additional 40 students from the city of Cholula are also enrolled. In just a short two months, we have already had a significant impact in teaching engineering and computer science to nearly 100 low-income students in Cholula, Mexico. We will continue to offer year-round courses and programs that will help prepare all our students for careers in engineering and computer science.
“It was beautiful to see how the little ones (ages 9-10) were able to understand complex concepts and use them to formulate new ideas that we, as adults, would have never imagined.”