Joshua Lewis had no idea that spending his senior year of high school in another state would propel him into starting a nonprofit, but he said he wouldn’t change a thing about the journey he is now on.
Lewis, a 20-year-old St. Rose native who moved to Texas for his senior year, found a world of resources that weren’t accessible to students in Louisiana … and he knew he had to change that.
“I realized the difference between Louisiana and Texas,” Lewis said. “In Texas they gave me the keys to do whatever I wanted. I really became self-taught. They had mentors from Boeing and these huge robotics companies and Google and all those places … people who could point you in the right direction. There were just a lot of the awesome resources and training I got in Texas that just wasn’t available here.”
When Lewis moved back to Louisiana for college – he is now a junior Xavier University student studying computer science – he returned to Destrehan High School to mentor the robotics team there. With the wheels in his head set in motion as to how he could replicate a Texas-like STEM experience here in Louisiana, he started STEMCYCLES in the summer of 2021.
“Starting STEMCYCLES was important to me because I believe everyone should have the opportunity to pursue their interests to the highest degree,” he said. “STEM is one of the fastest-growing fields and one of the most impactful areas shaping our future. Students need access to high-quality resources, whether they are materials, training, or simply connections. The ability to provide these resources to students, specifically those underrepresented in the field, allows a new generation of students to see STEM as an achievable dream for their future.”
Lewis’ first STEMCYCYLES program is an all-girls high school robotics team. This month kicked off the start of its first competition cycle, and for the next couple of months the 15-member team will meet at the Destrehan library weekly to build a robot that will be featured at a March competition.
“We’re starting well,” he said. “I wouldn’t say ‘small,’ but were starting with this and then well branch out.”
Lewis has big plans for STEMCYCYCLES for 2022 and beyond.
“Outside of the robotics team, my goal is to expand the mission of the non-profit to every level of schooling,” Lewis said. “Launching our cultivation camps just in time for the summer, students ranging from K-12 would be able to participate in one-to-two-week camps focused on different STEM topics. The goal of these camps is to provide students with an experience that drives them to STEM and then direct parents and students in the right direction so that the cultivation can continue.”
Lewis said the goal for the STEMCYCLES students is to be able to build connections, cultivate relationships and find resources for whatever career path they are interested in.
Fundraising, and the associated marketing, are also something Lewis hopes to teach the students. Robot-making is an expensive endeavor, with one robot requiring up to $10,000 in supplies and materials, he said.
Lewis said the community can support STEMCYCLES through volunteering or monetary donations – all of which donors can be confident in the money being used to change the future.
“Students who otherwise may not have the chance to develop their skills in STEM for various reasons, whether it is because of a lack of funds or prejudgment because of their gender or race, will be provided with the resources and placed into an environment where they are advanced,” he said. “This means more developed students, but it also means diverse workers, who will bring a different perspective to the industry and work to improve our lives. When you donate to the organization, you invest in the future and developing students in your community who are prepared for whatever challenges they may face in the future. To build a quality project isn’t easy, but I think we’re in a really good position.”
Lewis said he has had a lot of people and industry leaders help him thus far, and that he is excited about the future of the nonprofit.
“I can see it being really beneficial for the students who are a part of it,” Lewis said.
Abihail Navarro is one of those students.
“I am really excited for this season to start because this is my first time being a part of a robotics team, and I’m so happy that I was able to be part of this amazing team,” she said. “We have an awesome goal with our robot and I know our team is going to work hard to accomplish it. I hope this season goes smoothly and that we especially have a lot of fun.”
Indira Escobar agreed.
Having a team that is all girls is exciting,” she said. “It defies all the standards society defines for women in STEM. I’m grateful for the mentorship and thrilled to see how this journey inspires underrepresented groups as it did me.”
For more information on STEMCYCLES or to donate, visit stemcycles.com.