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Blending arts and science

Boston nonprofit gives kids hands-on tech experience

Martin Desmarais
Blending arts and science
Gique events coordinator Ashli Davis-Polanco and co-founder Danielle Olson. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Gique)

Boston startup Gique (the name signifies a cross between “geek” and “chic”) is bringing its unique blend of technology, engineering, math and art to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester on Aug. 6, giving local kids exposure to the passion project that MIT grad Danielle Olson hopes will help pave the future for a generation of tech-savvy and creative minds from Boston’s neighborhoods.

While Olson comes out of an environment that has launched some of the world’s top tech engineers, scientists, and companies, her entrepreneurial drive has caused her to launch an educational nonprofit that is in the business of inspiration.

Although traditional Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs spread the gospel of tech disciplines to a broader audience of girls, minorities and communities that are typically underrepresented in engineering and tech, Olson’s approach involves more experiential learning that she says both expands the reach to and increases the participation of young students. It also adds an “A” to the equation, for “Art” — which is why Gique uses the motto #ChangeTheWorld with Art + STEM, or STEAM.

Next month’s Boys & Girls Club workshop, held in conjunction with Mbadika — another Boston-based support organization for young entrepreneurs — will give kids direct experience building solar USB chargers.

“We really want people to do hands-on learning. We feel that hands-on learning is so much impactful than what people find typically when learning inside the classroom,” said Olson.

In the same vein, Gique will hold another event later in August at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury on science and dance. Gique kicked off its efforts last fall with a workshop on science and topography at the Cambridge Science Festival.

Tech for kids

Gique has a longterm vision to provide people of all ages throughout Boston with applied learning opportunities at the intersection between technology and creativity. One goal that supports this vision: hold a summer camp for kids, as well as a week-long program during the school year for students.

“I am really passionate about using science and technology to disrupt education,” Olson said. “This is the way I keep myself creative and excited about that space.”

Author: Photo courtesy of GiqueGique co-founder Danielle Olson works with a young learner.

Olson, whose mom is from Cameroon, discovered her love of technology, math and science while growing up in Chantilly, Virginia. But she also had a keen interest in creative outlets such as writing. She took these enthusiasms with her to technology’s ultimate breeding ground at MIT, expecting to find her creative side dulled as she often felt it was by remedial science and math education. However, what she found was pretty much the opposite. MIT opened up a world full of students looking to blend all kinds of artistic disciplines with technology and engineering.

“People at MIT were so creative,” she said about her undergraduate experience, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering, served as a researcher at the MIT Media Lab and was the first student ambassador to the MIT Office of Minority Education.

Much of this was the foundation on which Gique was built when it launched in Olson’s MIT dormroom in late 2013, during her senior year. Olson, who serves as Gique’s president, founded the nonprofit with Phil Getzen, who serves as vice president. She met Getzen, a 2013 computer science graduate of Michigan State University, while interning at Microsoft. Both currently work there as program managers at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center in Kendall Square.

The pair has bootstrapped Gique’s initial phase, but they hope is to fund future efforts through partnerships and grants.

“My dream is to get it to the point where I can do it as a fulltime job,” said Olson.

Fellow MIT grad Ashli Davis-Polanco is another believer in Gique’s mission. She volunteers with Gique, as well as holding down a fulltime job as a process development associate at Broad Technology Labs at the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

“As the events and outreach director for Gique, I have been able to pursue a longtime passion of mine, which is providing and participating in STEM educational outreach programs across Boston and Cambridge,” Davis-Polanco said. “This was something extremely important to me as I wished there was more encouragement for youth to pursue studies in difficult subjects, or be passionate about their education because it’s been deemed ‘uncool’ to be smart in grade school. Gique’s mission is to tear down those labels and stereotypes that stifle us from learning and promote the idea that knowledge is power.”

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