Forum Shah - the path to life science hacking

Story / Biography:
I was a participant of STEAM school in 2017 and STEAM Fabrikarium in 2018. At that time, I was a biotechnologist and working at the REDX WeSchool Innovation lab. I had known Vaibhav and Maker's Asylum since 2014 via the MIT-REDX community; and since then I've been an active part of the Maker's Asylum community, participating in workshops & events, volunteering at the space sometimes and even collaborating officially for REDX projects.
Due to my academic background in life sciences and my then management role at the REDX lab, I couldn't contribute technically to the ongoing social impact projects at my lab. Hence I found the concept of STEAM school very interesting and a great opportunity to learn basics of some rapid prototyping skills like Arduino programming, 3D modeling and printing, using power tools, etc. The workshop was also exciting since it was in collaboration with CRI Paris, bringing together students from various backgrounds, from all across France.
So I decided to join in as a participant hoping to learn new skills, develop a potentially impactful project for quality education and get to know the CRI community.

SDG Program:

STEAM School India

Participation year:

2017

Why did you join an SDG-focused program?

To learn new prototyping skills, develop a potentially impactful project for quality adult education and get to know the CRI community.

What are the highlights of STEAM School experience?

For me, the biggest and most unexpected achievement is to be a student at CRI currently, pursuing masters in life sciences. This was through the conversations that I had with Kevin Lhoste about CRI, its courses in life sciences, and in general discussions about life in France for expats with the European students at STEAM school. Kevin offered to help me connect with the admissions office at CRI and suggested to give it a shot to apply for enrolment in the course. Vaibhav, as always, helped a lot by providing a recommendation letter based on my work at both the workshops; which I think was very crucial to get enrolled as a student at CRI.
Inspite of being a Mumbaikar, I'd never explored Dharavi! So the field trip to Dharavi was a very fulfuling experience. Also surely, being a part of STEAM school has provided with a supportive network of like-minded people who I can reach out to for any help, even now (after 2 years of the event)! A special mention about the great evening events, which were fun, relaxing and at the same time insightful and inspiring!

What is the program’s impact on your life?

Since the story started at this program, going from Mumbai to Paris to pursue research studies in life sciences has been a transformative experience!

Surely the skills and overall learnings have been helpful so far and will continue as I keep building upon it. For the global view, it's not just about me learning stuff, but I think the experience that even my European friends had at STEAM school about getting to know India, Indians has helped in setting a level of comfort, understanding and friendship among us.

How would you describe the program to a potential attendee?

Below is the post extras I'd written on Facebook after the STEAM school experience:

At the heart of Maker Movement is Empowerment! At Maker's Asylum, it's about being empowered to make, break and create - not just for oneself, but for sharing with the community.
At the STEAM School 2017, along with making, breaking and creating, it was about empowering to LEARN!
Learning to love, work, eat, play, and help people from diverse backgrounds; understanding technologies and various complimentary disciplines, using prototyping tools - from frugal paper to as high-tech 3D printing, story-telling from highly inspirational people about their craziest ideas, making cherishable memories with them in humbling experiences, without any limitations of age, experience, gender, nationality, religion, culture, expertise, talent etc.
I believe this is the first & very crucial step to become an Innovator - developing global social innovations for billions.

Like a journey, those 10 days were full of feelings and emotions - passion, anxiety, nervousness, cheer, anger, disappointment, empathy, love, care, joy, laughter, sadness and many more in between.

What is the impact of such a program on society?

I think such programs provide a motive/ reason and an opportunity for students and professionals to connect with their local communities in a very empathetic, design-thought manner which increases the probability of having meaningful encounters, conversations and potential relationships & impact.

With optimum approaches and resources, these programs can serve as great platforms to get even different-minded people together to better know each other, exchange & explore ideas together, and a driving environment to pursue areas of common interest/ passion.

How is such a program different from traditional school programs?

It is very different as it's interdisciplinary and multi-cultural. Learning is peer-to-peer, one gets access to all the resources and a great environment to pursue their passion. And all of this without having to pay a penny!

Imagine you organize such a program yourself, what would you do differently?

  1. I'd like to have more prototyping & validation time to get projects to some maturity.

  2. Have people facing the challenges at hand / real-life stakeholders as part of teams

  3. Not sure how, but maybe connect teams with startups or organizations interested in further developing/ deploying the ideas and prototypes; so there is more motivation for the team to continue working on the project or atleast handing over their ideas smoothly so someone else interested can build on it further.

  4. I'd love to have life sciences/ biotechnology tools and workshops included in the program as well just like how mechanics, electronics and computation are. This will bring in new materials, techniques, approaches and innovators to contribute to SDG goals.

Bonus question: How can we build a learning planet?

  1. Continue to exchange knowledge with people from different backgrounds, about different subjects

  2. Make teaching and learning effortless by share teaching resources as well

  3. People can be maps too! Connect people in my network with each other based on their needs and interests

  4. Inclusivity - Not just democratize and spread learning resources, but being inclusive for people willing to contribute to solving SDGs after gaining skills through non-traditional approaches.

  5. Advocacy - Actively reach out to community to spread awareness about sciences, problems, technologies, their impact