K-12 Program


423 West 127th St

New York, NY 10027

Hk Maker Lab

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423 West 127th St

New York, NY 10027

HYPOTHEkids’s Hk Maker Lab is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.

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Who is served: Rising juniors and seniors from low-income families and underrepresented backgrounds in STEM. 

Number of participants: 23 

Location: Columbia University  

Frequency/Duration: 30 hours per week, 6 weeks in total  

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must attend a NYC high school during this academic school year (due to the rigor and demands of the program, preference is given to rising juniors and seniors) and demonstrate economic or educational disadvantage. Academic history/attendance record, essays, letters of recommendation taken into consideration.  

Curriculum: Foundations of engineering design curriculum modeled on the senior design class taken by students in the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science. Course is matched to students’ abilities, meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and is taught by a Columbia Engineering program professor.  

Students learn the engineering design process, with a focus on biomedical engineering. The process of identifying a problem, doing a needs analysis of potential customers, brainstorming solutions, and building a prototype teaches computational thinking and “instills in them that you will fail if you’re trying to do something meaningful,” said Christine Kovich, executive director of HYPOTHEkids and co-founder of Harlem Biospace. “It’s just a different way of working than they’re used to.”   Core skills taught include engineering design process, computational thinking, developing a business plan, presentation skills.  

Outcomes: Program is tracking students as they begin, and are now completing STEM majors. Teams of students develop a business plan and pitch to biomedical community executives, for the chance to have their design projects incubated at Harlem Biospace. 

Partnerships: Harlem Biospace, Columbia University, NIH, Weill Cornell Medicine, West Harlem Development Corp., ConEd, Pinkerton Foundation, NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium 

Cost: Free 

Sources of funding: Private 

What makes the program stand out? New York City has the largest concentration of academic medical centers in the country, and receives about $1.5 billion in annual National Institute of Health funding, according to Kovich. This presents an opportunity to create a diverse pipeline of future biotech industry leaders, and HK Maker Space is among the few programs helping this particular cause.  

Moreover, entrepreneurially speaking, the program offers more tangible possible outcomes than typical high school programs. Working in teams, students identify a health problem and build a biomedical-device solution, such as an automated eyedrop system for glaucoma sufferers. Each team develops a business plan and a pitch, which they present to biomedical community executives, with the chance of their project being selected for incubation at Harlem Biospace, a state-of-the-art biotech incubator and coworking wet lab spearheaded by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. “We’re showing students that they can take their STEM skills and apply [them] to solve real-world problems,” said Kovich. 

What do participants need to succeed? Schools could be doing more to prepare students for post-secondary programs and careers in the life sciences. Feedback from instructors and mentors of Hypothekids programs suggests that “students don’t get a good foundation in biology in high school,” said Kovich.  

The lack of labs and research programs in schools serving low-income students represents another hurdle, and even life sciences-focused schools “have had their research programs falter because they can’t find mentors,” said Kovich. To help fill that instructional gap, HYPOTHEkids invites public school teachers to “co-learn” alongside students in summer programs, with the goal of having them bring engineering back into their classrooms.  

What does the organization need? HYPOTHEkids’ capacity is limited by funding and space constraints. It has use of Columbia lab spaces, but Harlem Biospace facilities are typically in use by companies based there. Kovich has also seen huge demand for the limited number of scholarships for elementary school programs (including summer camp).’