Mbadika, a nod to childhood role models and the word “idea” in Kimbundu, has become a catalyst against the backdrop of uneven opportunity. At the helm, Through MLAB (Mbadika Laboratory), workshops, and digital content, Mbadika fosters accessible STEM education. Volunteer-driven and community-oriented, Mbadika dismantles barriers to cultivate a future where all dreamers thrive.

What inspired you to start Mbadika while you were an undergraduate at MIT?

At the time, as a sophomore, I was getting my bearings as an undergraduate and was looking toward what form I wanted my post-MIT career to take.

Since I was in middle school and received the Dear America Book entry ‘Queen Nzinga,’ I knew I wanted to dedicate something to my childhood role model. However, I didn’t realize the events of that Summer would be the catalyst for this childhood dream.

My Father had been battling cancer since my acceptance to MIT, and early that Summer, he would succumb to the disease shortly. While grieving, I reflected on my Father’s experience as a bright, curious youngster in Southside Chicago, desiring nothing more than to become an engineer at MIT. Unfortunately, due to the systems in place, he was informed that he would make a better “trash collector than engineer” due to the color of his skin. Therefore, despite his merit, my Father was denied the opportunity to study engineering, let alone apply to MIT.

In the years since, especially when he witnessed his oldest daughter’s trajectory to the Infinite Corridor, my Father dreamed of retiring and creating a STEM school where everyone would be granted the opportunity to explore their talents and unlock their full potential.

That Summer, I began laying the groundwork for Mbadika [bah-GEE-kah]. Mbadika means “idea” in Kimbundu, a language of Western Angola, and is our subtle ode to Queen Nzinga. Our mission is ideas and those who create them, regardless of where or from whom they come. Why? We know first-hand that talent is universal, while opportunity is not. We view ourselves as a catalyst for those typically overlooked as the face of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Can you tell us more about the specific programs and workshops Mbadika offers?

To fulfill our mission regarding ideas and those who create them (i.e., fostering innovation and entrepreneurship), we focus on three offerings; our hands-on workshops and youth-focused internship programs (i.e., MLAB or Mbadika Laboratory), our digital content (i.e., MLAB TV Show), and our commercial products (i.e., M°Lab Field Kit 1.0).

Each of our offerings ensures we can maintain our commitment to providing accessible and equitable hands-on STEM education to the general public. For example, our MLAB workshops allow our team to provide flexible STEM education workshops exploring a wide range of novice topics, including digital fabrication or 3D Printing in popular culture as well as the fabric science of NASA space suits to the general public.

What are some success stories or notable achievements of young innovators who have been through Mbadika’s programs?

Over the last ten years, we’ve been fortunate to have impacted thousands of learners of all ages on three continents through our workshops, videos, and educational DIY kits. Our MLAB Interns, our internship program for local area youth to work alongside our team and partners to develop new innovative STEM education offerings and products, have a few notable achievements. The first significant achievement would be our interns receiving the 2019 NASA Goddard PIERR Award from NASA Goddard for their work developing innovative products for NASA’s Mars 2030 Mission by utilizing pre-existing NASA Patents.

One of the notable inventions was VR Goggles, which would help astronauts fight the visual and cognitive effects of long-term space missions. Our students were able to travel to Washington, D.C. to be awarded and honored by Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) in person for their outstanding work.

What role does mLab (Mbadika Laboratory) play in the organization’s mission, and how does it contribute to hands-on STEM education?

MLAB, or Mbadika Laboratory, is our playground where we can quickly design and develop experimental STEM education offerings for the general public to learn unique or niche topics. Whether it’s how 3D Printing is utilized in Hollywood to create unique wardrobe adornments or how NASA Spacesuits led to innovation in workplace clothing, MLAB allows our teams and partners to develop workshops, digital content, and products to create a new generation of science lovers. In addition to allowing our team to innovate, MLAB also will enable us to provide Cambridge and Boston High School students the opportunity to work hands-on by co-developing alongside our team and partners through our MLAB Internship program.

This Summer, we used our new MLAB space in Kendall Square to bring our latest product in collaboration with the Ministry of Supply, the M°Lab Field Kit 2.0, to reality. We refer to our latest MLAB offering as the “future of STEM education” as students make it for students. Over the year, our MLAB Interns helped design, develop, and manufacture the M°Lab Field Kit to educate learners of all ages regarding New England’s rich textile history. Whether it’s designing footwear for soldiers during World War II to utilize NASA-patented technology to create comfortable workplace clothing, our students have researched and crafted a unique hands-on experience exploring materials science that’s now available for the public to enjoy.

MLAB is the epitome of hands-on STEM education to our team because nothing beats a student walking on Newbury Street and encountering the idea they brought to reality on a store shelf. The cherry on top is that every MLAB purchase supports our MLAB initiatives, including our MLAB Internship program so that we can help the next generation of science lovers.

What role do volunteers or mentors play in supporting Mbadika’s programs? How can individuals get involved and contribute to the organization’s mission?

Mbadika couldn’t do any of our various initiatives with volunteers or mentors offering their knowledge and resources to our organization. Whether committing to opening the doors to their office space or laboratory, conducting a career talk, or mentoring our students through the product design and development process, we rely on our community. As we settle into our new Kendall Square space, we hope to explore new relationships and partnerships to support our mission of ensuring equitable access to high-quality STEM education.