Chances are the image you hold in your head of a robotics engineer falls somewhere between a pseudo-nerdy looking guy tinkering around with diagrams and formulas, or a white haired, goggle wearing, mad scientist who would also be tinkering but perhaps with something that may electrocute him or explode. How cool would it be if this image of a robotics engineer could be shifted to look like a 10 year old kid? The artists, engineers, and inventors at Two Bit Circus are working to make that a reality.
In Los Angeles’ downtown adjacent Brewery Arts Complex sits the headquarters for the multifaceted organization that is fueled by a power that is always right in front of us but often overlooked. S.T.E.A.M. the acronym for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics is what powers one of Two Bit Circus’ premiere events that engages children in the fundamentals of these subjects and shows them how they are put to use. STEAM Carnival is an annual event that brings young and old to celebrate and acknowledge the power of these disciplines in a fun and entertaining way, it is an extension of the work they do with local educators to better incorporate science and math into learning.
As much as we loved the baking soda volcano from the days of old, there are ways to update that premise and bring interactive learning into the classroom through demonstrations, challenges, and events. “We like to appeal to things we know kids like: music fashion, and games. Then we hijack those things and include a S.T.E.A.M. aspect to it.” explains Brent Bushnell, the CEO of the organization. Having grown up as an entrepreneur and student of computer science himself he developed a knack not only for science but sales. He’s taken that personal history and applied it to the business of creating a full service, experience company that conducts everything from workshops for educators, to gourmet dinners.
The traditional subjects of science, engineering, and math have a branding problem. By adding the art and design thinking components that make up so much of their programming Two Bit Circus is able to attract the attention of a broader audience and align those verticals with preexisting interests. These educational gateways serve as a pathway for further investigation.
Admittedly, STEM is not for everyone but Brent quotes Robert Heinlein, “Specialization is for insects.’ The world is not one size fits all and the types of problems we encounter are not patterned enough that a single skill set is enough.” Two Bit Circus propels the idea that we are indeed dynamic beings, with varied interests and is demystifying the stigma around the STEM world. When people begin to believe that they can utilize a diverse set of skills we become more open to shared learning, creative, and apt to collaborate to build mutually beneficial solutions.
On the business side, Two Bit Circus is a for profit company that sees itself as a social impact business. There are plans to develop a non-profit side that facilitates more of the educational goals of the organization but they do believe that the company of the future creates value for the community, environment, and has lasting impact. With so many complex problems in the world there is great demand for critical thinkers with practical skills in the STEM fields just like Kamau Bobb, Google’s Director of STEM Education Strategy. The work being done by Two Bit Circus serves to inspire interest in these fields and in some ways kick off their educational journey, giving them a small taste of what is possible in the application of their knowledge.
If the goal is a more well-rounded society, more qualified applicants for in demand jobs, and exciting games and events, Two Bits Circus is certainly helping bring the words of Robert Heinlein to life;
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”