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Astoria students learn about drones and green energy jobs at STEM event

Photo by Seán Ó Briain

Apr. 11, 2024 By Seán Ó Briain

Over 40 students at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens in Astoria participated in a mentoring session on drone technology and green energy jobs Wednesday evening as part of an initiative to introduce young children to STEM careers. 

The event, which took place in the Variety Boys and Girls Club at 21-12 30th Rd., was organized by the New York Power Authority (NYPA), Con Edison and 174 Power Global as part of an annual initiative to teach children about the benefits of STEM. 

Now in its third year, the initiative centered on drone technology, with children learning to fly classroom-friendly drones last week and showing off those skills at Wednesday’s event. 

Children also spoke to several NYPA, Con Edison and 174 Power Global drone pilots and engineers during Wednesday’s event, learning about a wide range of potential career paths. 

Organizers said they chose a diverse range of engineers to encourage children of all backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. Organizers also added that fun is at the heart of the initiative, hoping that hands-on activities such as flying drones can help expose children from underserved communities to STEM careers. 

Photo by Seán Ó Briain

Elected officials, including State Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, were in attendance on Wednesday to observe the initiative’s benefits. 

State Sen. Gonzalez said it was important to build a “workforce of the future” that represents all community members. 

“I came from a low-income background. I’m a woman of color. I think there should be more people like me actually developing technology because all of the issues we see today around things like bias or lack of culture really could be addressed by having a more diverse and robust workforce,” Gonzalez said. “I think this type of event is an investment in addressing that issue in the future.” 

Gonzalez said Wednesday’s event focused on both STEM and clean energy, adding that it helps place children from underserved communities disproportionately affected by climate change at the center of environmental justice. Gonzalez also said she hopes Wednesday’s event will help create “leaders of the future.” 

Costa Constantinides, a former City Council Member and the current CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens, said the initiative is an excellent way to prepare children for “the careers of the 21st century”. 

“Our kids are going to be at the forefront of these emerging careers,” Constantinides said. Events like this help prepare them for that future.” 

Constantinides added that students must have fun while learning about issues such as STEM careers and climate change. 

“It’s so important to show them that these kinds of things can be fun,” Constantinides said. “Fun is the number one thing you can do as a kid. Like Mr. Rogers said, the job of every child is to play. So they get to play with really cool tech and learn something.” 

Constantinides added that the initiative would help combat climate change in the neighborhood, helping to transform Western Astoria from “Asthma Alley” to “Renewable Row”. 

“Working with partners like 174 Power Global, NYPA, Con Edison and other renewable energy partners helps show kids they can be the leaders,” Constantinides said. “They’re going to be the ones taking these jobs in the future. We have a chance to change the paradigm here.” 

Meanwhile, NYPA Environmental Justice Director Kaela Mainsah said it was “particularly important” to expose children from underserved communities to the benefits of a career in STEM. 

“It’s important that they know about these future careers so that they can participate in them and be first to benefit from them,” Mainsah said. 

Mainsah added that it was extremely important that children met a diverse group of engineers during Wednesday’s event. 

“I think historically, there’ve been communities that have been excluded from STEM,” Mainsah said. “When I was studying, it wasn’t very representative. In a room of one hundred engineers, I was one of four women and the only woman of color. It’s important that the workforce represents the communities we serve. And so we’re trying to make sure that we’re building that inclusive workforce of the future.” 

Photo by Seán Ó Briain

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