Business

A think space for student scientists | StudentRND offers workshop for science, tech and engineering

Adam Ryman, left, and Edward Jiang, both students at the University of Washington run StudentRND, a nonprofit think space and workshop for high school and college students. They
Adam Ryman, left, and Edward Jiang, both students at the University of Washington run StudentRND, a nonprofit think space and workshop for high school and college students. They're hoping to turn the 3-year-old organization from a basement project into a million dollar operation by the end of the year.
— image credit: CELESTE GRACY, Reporter Newspapers

When Jack Kim learned Google made $9 billion last year, he began to wonder what would happen if some of that money went to nonprofits.

So the King's High School student found a way. Benelab.org has raised a couple grand and led him to an even more ambitious idea - Firedove.

The tool allows people to raise money while shopping online. But before it could become a reality he needed a place to collaborate.

That's when he discovered StudentRND, a creative think space and workshop for science, tech and engineering students in Bellevue.

He sacrificed his summer plans, including a trip home to Korea, to finish the program in the organization's Incubator program.

"It sounds too good to be true, but we're hoping that it is true," he said.

Students like Kim, who aren't content waiting to learn science and math from text books, are the reason why Edward Jiang, now 21, founded the organization.

It's like a public library for tech-literate students.

When Jiang was a student at Interlake High, he circled through robotics, math and business clubs. They had community, but he grew frustrated that students never stretched their creativity outside of competitions. They were about building resumes.

"I thought, you could do more amazing things now," he said, his red stretched sneakers popped up on a folding table in RND's 2,500-square foot office space.

The unrefined rooms, scattered with cheap folding chairs, used sofas and cartoon posters, form a youthful den off Bel-Red Road. Start at the vending machine loaded with Top Ramen, pass through a computer lab and find a woodwork shop.

Upstairs, pass by a homemade replica of Microsoft's touch table and find a laser cutter, which is roughly the size of a small car and probably heavier.

They sold handmade plasma speakers, which use a bolt of electricity to play full lyrical songs, to buy the cutter. Normally the machine costs around $25,000, but RND ordered it's from China for $5,000.

It was a steal, even considering the manual is written in "Engrish," said Adam Ryman, RND's second in command.

While the workshop's sense of inspiration is infectious, Jiang's first challenge with founding RND was convincing students that they were capable of "amazing things."

In school, learning is about passing and failing tests. In life, it's a process of discovery, he said.

The summer after his senior year, he convinced a dozen students to spend the summer hanging out in his mother's Sammamish basement tinkering with projects.

It was inspirational, but RND needed money for tools and parts. The teens entered a $25,000 Chase nonprofit Facebook competition, which they easily won. Ironically when the check arrived, they were still too young to open an account with the bank. Now a junior at the University of Washington, Jiang is still the oldest team member.

A confident businessman of sorts, he has since netted a list of recognizable sponsors from Medtronic to Blackberry. With the support, he grew StudentRND from a summer program to a year-round operation.

RND's signature event is Code Day, where upward of 100 students are challenged to complete programs and apps within a 24-hour period.

"It's an incredibly powerful event," he said. "It changes student mindsets."

The products were so complete, Jiang decided to see what would happen if students were given two months. The Incubator program was born this summer, resulting in seven complex projects, including Firedove. He hopes next summer to give each team $5,000 grants. He's also planning to establish Code Days in 10 major cities next year and expand RND's current space.

To cover their biennium expenses, RND has set out to raise $1.5 million in the next three months.

"People thought we were crazy before," Ryman said, assured this too is possible.

Nothing has stopped Jiang so far.

"This is an opportunity to build something amazing."

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