Over the summer, Elizabeth Tiemann ’16 launched a nonprofit called Delta Lab with a team of twelve other young entrepreneurs. The company’s mission is to “encourage involvement in the crucial fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)” among Indonesia’s underprivileged youth. To do this, as stated on its website, Delta Lab will distribute lab kit boxes filled with “thought-provoking, interest-piquing experiments” to elementary schools in the area.
Tiemann, who grew up partly in Jakarta, Indonesia, fondly recalls transforming her family’s kitchen into “Elizabeth’s Lab,” where she conducted science experiments created by her mother. She values those activities as a crucial part of her early education, and she explained that not nearly enough Indonesians have the same opportunities. When she learned that far too many Indonesians lack a range of STEM skills, forcing Indonesian companies to outsource jobs in the fields of engineering, technology, and science to employees in other countries, Tiemann was motivated to create Delta Lab.
Delta Lab produces “lab boxes” designed for third and sixth grade students that contain materials for five different STEM classroom experiments. Each experiment also teaches a scientific concept, including topics such as density, a catalyst’s role in a chemical reaction, oxidation through carbon compounds, and heat. Each experiment incorporates fun materials and titles, such as “Growing Gummy Bears” and “Rainbow in a Jar,” that are aimed at engaging young learners.
To develop the nonprofit, Tiemann works with a team of students, called “lab partners,” most of whom “go to boarding school or college in the U.S.” Each lab partner is responsible for contacting sponsors and communicating with schools.
Tiemann encountered challenges along the way to making Delta Lab a reality. For example, she eventually decided to reconstruct the model, which first allowed for students to receive their own lab boxes, after realizing the kits would be more effective as a classroom-wide tool. She also experienced initial difficulty in finding sufficient funding and support. Individual sponsors cover the fifty-dollar cost of each lab box, maintaining the non-profit nature of Delta Lab, and they have input into which schools receive the boxes. As Tiemann said, “the sad reality is that not everyone wants to help,” but ultimately, enthusiastic supporters of Delta Lab helped balance the funding scales.
During the seven-week start-up period, Tiemann said the most rewarding part was seeing the students’ reactions when they performed the experiments: “I haven’t seen that much sheer enthusiasm for learning in a while, and that was really, really refreshing.” Rewarding, too, was the initial response to the idea of Delta Lab. “I started getting requests from schools for upwards of 30 boxes a week,” she said. “One school even extended an invitation to do an event to demo a box in front of a group of 180 students!”
During the school year, Tiemann explained that “the number of boxes and frequency of delivery will decline a bit, but [she expects] to go back with full force next summer.” She will stay in contact with potential sponsors and work with her team in Indonesia during school breaks. “It killed me a little bit on the inside when I had to leave Jakarta just as work was really starting [up],” she said. “But I trust the momentum will keep building, and we can make a greater impact next summer.”
Though still very young, Delta Lab has already reaped the support of the economic consul of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and hopes to extend its services to other countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Mongolia next summer. Tiemann added, “We have proven that the demand for STEM education, and our boxes as a vector for that demand is outstanding.”