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On the Job

Ashie Bhandiwad Th’13 | Founder of StemChef

Ashie Bhandiwad
Courtesy of Ashie Bhandiwad.

Mix one bioscientist and a curious 3-year-old. Stir in a conversation about STEM education with a former Thayer engineering dean. The result: StemChef, a hands-on program that helps kids ages 7 and up concoct delicious desserts while learning scientific concepts. It’s a recipe for success that Bhandiwad is sharing across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where did you develop the concept of teaching science through cooking? 

It started with a conversation four years ago with Joseph Helble, former dean of Thayer School of Engineering who is now Dartmouth’s provost, that revolved around how to get more girls interested in STEM at a young age. Around that time, I worked at UC Berkeley and had a really long commute. Dinnertime was the only quality time I would get to spend with my daughter. And, she had every question under the sun. In response, I spent most evenings demonstrating lessons in the kitchen while I made dinner. The foundational knowledge in science that my daughter was forming was unbelievable. I wondered what this strategy of teaching science through cooking could do for future generations. So, two years ago I founded StemChef.

How did you introduce StemChef?

I rolled out summer camps, afterschool enrichment classes, demo classes, and visited schools. The program was received with enormous enthusiasm. Kids get to cook and then eat what they make—what’s not to love? And their little brains soak up the scientific concepts and they understand the implications because they apply them in the recipes. I thought it would be great to combine the educational aspect of StemChef and the immersion experience of escape rooms to make this new offering. Children solve puzzles, find clues, tinker with science, and then use the clues and science to make the special dessert to escape the Candy Lab.

How do you lead an “escape”?

Each session accommodates up to 10 participants at a time, and it takes anywhere from 55 to 80 minutes. The Candy Lab is one big room split into separate sections: the lab, the kitchen, the garden, the gallery, the library, and a clue wall. Kids get a box of clues that has them visiting each “room” in a structured way to get more clues. They use their keen perceptive senses, analytical skills, and common sense to crack the puzzles. Independent working is intrinsically built into the experience, but in case they need hints I provide them. It is amazing to see the kids’ exhilaration when they solve puzzles and “discover” the science that the clues lead to. The sense of accomplishment they get when they make a tangible recipe from a mere abstract concept is even more gratifying to see.

—Interview by Theresa D'Orsi

Categories: Alumni News, On the Job

Tags: alumni, career

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