Just as many students are settling into their post-quarter break, six intrepid Stanford students are cycling across the United States to bring STEM education to school kids of all ages. 

Setting off on June 19, the Stanford Spokes team will pedal from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., blending adventure with education by stopping to teach hands-on workshops in 10 states. 

The 2024 Spokes team, consisting of four rising sophomores, a rising senior, and a recent graduate, will cycle across the country over 75 days. Along the way, they will teach STEM-focused workshops at Boys and Girls Clubs day camps, libraries, and, for the first time, Stanford Sierra Camp

This year, the team is emphasizing experiential learning, with each member creating and leading a workshop. The workshops feature hands-on activities, such as making slime stress balls, creating “elephant toothpaste” (a foamy mixture of hydrogen peroxide, yeast, and warm water), and participating in a physics escape room. 

Team member Eva Matentsian, a human biology major, hopes to inspire participants with her passion for genetics through a workshop on extracting DNA from strawberries. 

“I’m excited to do a miniature version of what we do at our lab working with CRISPR and DNA. I want to empower the kids we’ll be teaching to feel like they can be scientists too,” Matentsian said. 

While teaching is a primary focus, the adventure of the trip itself is also a major draw for the participants. 

Team member Will Yu, a data sciences major and education minor, has lived in the Bay Area all his life and was intrigued by the unique challenge offered by the Spokes program. 

“I felt kind of stuck in some ways. This was a really good summer to do something out of my comfort zone – to branch out from the 9-to-5 desk job research I’ve been accustomed to over the past few years,” Yu said. “I’m just so excited to experience people from so many different backgrounds and to see the scenery of the entire country.”

The cross-country route of the 2024 Stanford Spokes cycling team. | Courtesy Stanford Spokes Team

Spokes originated in 2013 with students from MIT, Harvard, and Columbia who wanted to bring STEM education to schools across the country. Stanford started its team in 2018, and initially, it was entirely student-led and unaffiliated with the university. 

Now, for the second year in a row, the Spokes team is sponsored by Stanford Digital Education (SDE).

Cycling and digital education might seem like an odd pairing, but their missions align well, said Cindy Berhtram, SDE’s director of project strategy and operations. 

“SDE is a group that’s very dedicated to teaching and learning, especially for groups who may be underserved or historically marginalized,” Berhtram said. “And that’s a key part of our work, and a key part of Spokes’ work too. That they’re going across the whole country is already this amazing feat, and then they’re also teaching workshops on topics that the students don’t always have access to.” 

University affiliation has streamlined operations for the team. Stanford Athletics lent the team a van for gear and supplies. And while the students handle fundraising and organization, SDE’s support provides continuity between cohorts, and has helped the team steward its finances and navigate university policies. 

“It’s student-led and they do a lot of work, but we provide that layer of administrative, financial, and operations support so we can help spin up each cohort,” Berhtram said.

With SDE’s help, last year’s cohort also worked with the 2024 team on a more cohesive training plan focused on team wellness. 

“We really want this year’s team members to focus on their own well-being – just having that awareness of self to be able to go out and do this really difficult thing,” said Berhtram. “We want to help the Spokes team really level up as leaders to take care of each other and themselves as well as doing this amazing thing for the world.”

You can follow the 2024 Stanford Spokes ride across the country via the team’s daily blog posts and Instagram @stanfordspokes.