Black Families Technology Awareness Day

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Our 2023 Event

The 2023 Black Families Technology Awareness Day — "Diversity in STEM," sponsored by National Grid, took place on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus in Troy, New York, on February 4 from 9 a.m. to 4:30  p.m. 

2023 marked the 24th anniversary of this exciting event, which is designed to immerse historically underrepresented students and their parents or guardians in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


2023 Program Offerings

View the program offerings below or view the full event program.

Grades K-2 Only

How To Draw Houses
Program Facilitator: National Organization of Minority Architecture Students

Art. Design. Engineering. STEM — the list of disciplines within architecture goes on and on! Drawing is one of the first ways children express themselves and their understanding of the world around them, and it’s a great way to get them interested in STEM as well. Join the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students as we guide your students (and maybe even aspiring architects!) through the process of drawing and painting houses.

Grades K-2 or 3-5

NASA Flight
Program Facilitator: National Society of Black Engineers

Learn about NASA spaceflights and different aircraft by constructing aircraft models that represent different technologies and spaceships that NASA builds. Students will choose from a variety of workstations to design, build, and test stomp-and-straw rockets, satellites, Mars helicopters, X-59 aircraft, paper airplanes, or Apollo moon capsules. Through this hands-on activity, students will gain a deeper understanding of flight, what NASA does, and how technology is used in air and space.

The Floor Is Lava — Will You Make It?
Program Facilitator: Society of Women Engineers

Lava spewing from volcanos is hot and can divide neighborhoods and disrupt activities until engineers come to the rescue! Students will choose an item that must be transported over a stream of lava, and using problem-solving skills and provided materials, design and build a device to get the object safely over the lava stream.

Saving the Turtles
Program Facilitator: Engineering Ambassadors

Learn about how engineers are working to help save and restore our marine life, which has suffered from decades of pollution in our oceans. Students will design and build sustainable products to help protect our marine life, including turtles, in the future!



Grades 3-5 Only

Creative Coding for Valentine’s Day
Program Facilitator: Art Technically

Learn to code a Valentine’s Day card! Meet young scientists and make Valentine’s Day cards using an art-based coding platform. Students will code Valentine’s Day cards for friends, family, and local Meals on Wheels programs through Art Technically’s seventh annual Love Letters project. They will learn some basic coding skills while meeting with inspiring young people working in technology, engineering, and health care. Plus, students can brighten a senior’s Valentine’s Day with their coded art!

Whatever Floats Your Boat!

Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Admissions

You and your friends were out on an adventure and are stranded on an island when the bridge washed out.  What can you do? How can you get off the island?  Only the most creative scientists can make their way out of this mess! You will learn about but buoyancy and density and how things are able to float, and then  build a “raft” that will carry you safely back to the mainland. Are you up to the challenge?

Grades 6-8 Only

How Strong Is Your Bridge?
Program Facilitator: Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers

Bridges are everywhere! Have you ever considered what civil engineers take into consideration when building bridges and how they build them? In this workshop, students will learn the engineering design process by building their own hydraulic bridge. Then, students will build a second bridge that will be tested in a weight-bearing competition (prizes will be given)!

Coding Pong With Scratch
Program Facilitator: Coding&&Community

Interested in game development and coding? Through Scratch’s block code platform, students will learn how to be a programmer in under one hour! This workshop will provide students with the logic and creative skills to take the very first step and by the end, they will have created their very own arcade game!

Design Your Power Grid — Keep the Lights On In Your City
Program Facilitator: Engineering Ambassadors

The power grid is an essential component to our day-to-day lives and can have devastating effects when it fails! In this workshop, students will design and build a power system to power a model city. Learn about the basics of how electrical circuits work and all the ways that engineers can use these design principles to keep our power grid safe, reliable, and effective. Plus, learn about what engineers are doing to incorporate renewable and sustainable practices into the power grid!

Astrobotany and Agriculture
Program Facilitator: Art Technically

Plants are very important to life on Earth. They provide us with food and clean air — plus being around plants can make us feel happier! For these same reasons, scientists want to learn how to grow plants in space for astronauts. In this session, students will learn about astrobotany, or the study of plants in space, through hands-on activities exploring biology, physics, and space science. They will also tour the plant growth chamber lab at the Rensselaer Center for Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications (LESA).

Grades 3-5 or 6-8

The Physics Magic Show

Program Facilitator: The Society of Physics Students

The Society of Physics Students will explore basic concepts in electromagnetism and mechanics using fun demonstrations with electrostatic generators, electromagnetic coils, balloons, and liquid air.

Grades K-2, 3-5, or 6-8

Space Exploration
Program Facilitator: Science Ambassadors

In this space exploration interactive, hands-on gallery, learn about three essential aspects of outer space. In “Gravity and the Universe,” explore our universe and learn how gravity ties everything together. Students will engage with a variety of simulations and play with hands-on demonstrations to learn how gravity works. In “Adopt-Your-Own-Alien,” explore three different “habitable” locations on Mars and learn about the kind of physical features that will allow life to thrive there. With provided materials, students will “adopt” (create) an alien and receive an adoption certificate! Lastly, in “Become a Geologist,” students will crash asteroids into our land to see how crater impacts are formed, and using the NASA-funded tools provided, make discoveries of their own and see what scientists can learn from asteroids.

Be An Engineer!

Program Facilitator: RPI STEP VEX Team Leaders

Have you ever thought about how to build a bridge, a pyramid, or maybe a tall building? We will introduce you to structure and design, team work, and problem solving so that you can build basic 2 and 3 dimensional structures using everyday items such as toothpicks and food such as marshmallows and spaghetti. Participants will be challenged to build the strongest, the tallest, and the most creative and delicious structures!


Grades 9-12 Only

Nanotechnology OOB
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated Systems
*Due to space, this program has a maximum capacity of 8 participants and, therefore, will be offered multiple times throughout the day (at 10:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 2:15 p.m.). If you want to attend, we strongly recommend registering for this program first before choosing additional programs.

How do science and technology enable the creation of nanostructures 1,000 times smaller than a human hair? These tiny features have sparked a digital age where computer chips power everything from a toaster oven to the most advanced fighter jet. This program invites students into the Rensselaer cleanroom to obtain first-hand experience with the materials, processes, and equipment that allow this “magic” to happen. Students will be introduced to the micro- and nano- length scale, become familiar with cleanroom protocols, and be guided through a hands-on demonstration of photolithography.

Grades 9-12 and Adults

Energy Conservation and Open Channel Flows
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

This workshop is designed to introduce participants to the curious ways that water flows in streams and river channels. Participants will learn about the principles of conservation of energy and the different ways a stream can exist as it navigates various obstacles. Participants will also tour the Rensselaer wind tunnel and learn how it is used to test air flow to optimize the aerodynamics of planes, cars, and other moving objects. Parents are encouraged to attend this session with their children.

Nuclear Engineering for Beginners
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering

Participants will be guided through a series of hands-on demonstrations to understand the fundamentals of nuclear science. From there, participants will learn how nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants work (and how they are different). Participant questions about nuclear technology (waste, radiation, etc.) will be answered as time permits.

Around the World
Program Facilitator: National Organization of Minority Architecture Students

Join the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students of Rensselaer as we travel around the world. Find out how architecture students fabricate and create physical models. Participants will have the opportunity to construct scale models of architectural landmarks and learn fun facts about them!

Getting In Good Trouble and Good Technology
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Science and Technology Studies Program

What real-world problems are important to you? Climate change? Accessible health care? Mental health? Although STEM proficiency is important, these real-world problems often have discriminatory legacies attached to them. As such, addressing the large problems of today requires moving beyond just technical terms and understanding and toward more socially conscious and justice-centered approaches. In this presentation, participants will learn about the critical missteps that professionals in STEM fields took, like the racial bias of eugenics and facial recognition, the sociotechnical factors that might mislead STEM professionals’ decision-making, and how scientists, engineers, their professional societies, social researchers, policymakers, and citizens collaborate and fight to ensure STEM knowledge and products are used for the good of society.

Research Walkthrough
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering

In this session, participants will get a good sense of what Rensselaer students do on a daily basis! Participants will be guided through the process of identifying research opportunities for the world's most mind-bending theories. Participants will also help develop a practical demonstration for how to better understand the Big Bang, star formation, and other topics as time allows.

College Readiness
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Admissions

Rensselaer Admissions invites you to a student panel focused on ensuring a successful transition from high school to college. Panelists will share their experiences exploring colleges, applying to colleges, making a final decision, and acclimating to college life. Our students will discuss topics such as what they wish they had known, what they would do the same or differently, what advice they have, and the importance of finding a school that is the right fit. Come with questions and an open mind!

Mechatronic Magic: Balancing and Levitation
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering

We are surrounded in our world by mechatronic systems, including biomedical devices, manufacturing tools, robots, and autonomous vehicles. Mechatronics involves the integration between mechanical, electronic, and software components. In this workshop, participants will interact with miniature balancing robots and a magnetic levitation device, while learning about the basic parts of a mechatronic system.

Build Your Own IoT Monitoring System
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE)

Students will learn how “Internet of things” (IoT) technology — “how objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies connect and exchange data with other devices over the Internet or other communications networks” — has been applied in our life and its basic principles. Using the principles, participants will be able to build their own system that monitors indoor air quality and thermal comfort and pushes notifications on their phones if the sensor value exceeds a pre-specified threshold. Several research projects from CASE will also be introduced, demonstrating how IoT technology can be applied to improve our built environment.

Black Campus Life: The Lived Experiences of Rensselaer STEM Students
Program Facilitator: Rensselaer Office of Minority Programs 

This student panel will focus on the academic journey of several Rensselaer students and how their experiences intersect with Dr. Antar Tichavakunda's book Black Campus Life: The Worlds Black Students Make at a Historically White Institution (SUNY Press, 2021).

An in-depth ethnography of Black engineering students at a historically White institution, Black Campus Life examines the intersection of two crises, up close: the limited number of college graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and the state of race relations in higher education. Dr. Tichavakunda takes readers across campus, from study groups to parties and beyond as these students work hard, have fun, skip class, fundraise, and, at times, find themselves in tense, racialized encounters. By consistently centering their perspectives and demonstrating how different campus communities, or social worlds, shape their experiences, Dr. Tichavakunda challenges assumptions about not only Black STEM majors, but also Black students and the "racial climate" on college campuses more generally. Most fundamentally, Black Campus Life argues that Black collegians are more than the racism they endure. By studying and appreciating the everyday richness and complexity of their experiences, we all — faculty, administrators, parents, policymakers, and the broader public — might learn how to better support them.

Dr. Tichavakunda will moderate the student panel. To learn more about Tichavakunda, visit

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Event History

The first event was held on February 2, 1999, on the Rensselaer campus, and has been a tradition on the campus ever since. After two years of hosting the event virtually, we are looking forward to hosting this year's event in person. 

Programs from recent past events can be viewed below:

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If you have any questions about the event, please send an email to