STEMChests staff help students assemble their kits at Rockville Science Day in April 2022. Credit: Aditya Das

Over 500 elementary students ages 5 to 10 in the D.C. metro area have received science kits at little to no cost, thanks to a nonprofit founded and run by a small group of Montgomery Blair High School students with a passion for reducing socioeconomic disparities in the sciences.

The kits are hand-assembled by a team of five students and their friends on a mission to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, accessible for all.

“I founded STEMChests to spread joy to kids through science kits,” STEMChests president Aditya Das told MoCo360.

Each $10 kit includes three experiments: a pom-pom catapult, a pop rocket and a balloon-powered car. For every kit sold, the organization pledges to give away another for free. It has crowdfunded over $3,000 since its launch, all used to buy materials for the kits.

Out of over 500 kits assembled, the STEMChests team has donated over half to Title 1 schools in Montgomery County and distributed another 150 to patients at Children’s National Hospital, based in Washington D.C., Das says.

Das, a county resident, says he originally conceived the idea for the organization in November 2021, propelled to action by reports of steep education barriers experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in underprivileged communities. He and fellow Blair senior Anika Rai, STEMChests’ vice president, quickly began brainstorming ways to put learning tools in the hands of students in need.


“One of the biggest challenges was making sure the kits are affordable, but still fun,” Das said.

Das and Rai designed the experiments together, inspired in part by similar kits like Tinker Crates that Das remembers enjoying in elementary school. They source their materials in bulk, mostly from Amazon.

Das reached out to his English teacher at Blair, Leigh Tinsley, to see if she’d be interested in taking a prototype home for her two elementary-age sons to try as a demo. Tinsley told MoCo360 her sons loved trying out the kits.


“It was really a nice kit. The kids really enjoyed it, the instructions were clear and all the parts were good quality,” she said.

Tinsley’s sons assemble a demo STEMChest kit at home before the official launch. Credit: Leigh Tinsley

In February 2022, Das and Rai applied for and successfully acquired 501(c)3 status on behalf of STEMChests. They began building STEM kits during their spare moments at home and at school. Das described the kit assembly as an arduous process requiring double and triple checks at every step, adding that it took a full day to make the first 50 kits.

“Sometimes we would lug a whole laundry basket of materials to school and beg our friends to help us package kits over lunch,” he said.


The organization also enlisted the help of Difference Makers, a middle school community service team of around 30 Takoma Park students who Das said have been instrumental in building kits. Tinsley said the STEMChests team used her classroom several times as an assembly room.

“They had a whole bunch of kids in the room surrounded by all their boxes and parts,” she said. “It was quite the operation.”

Students gather in a classroom to help the STEMChests team assemble kits. Credit: Aditya Das

STEMChests held its first workshop at Veirs Mill Elementary School in March. Das remembers how nervous he felt ahead of the big day, unsure how the young students would respond to the kits.


“That morning, I was almost shaking,” he said, but added that the support they felt from staff “as soon as we walked in the classroom” made the launch go smoothly.

In April, STEMChests participated in its first science fair for Rockville Science Day. Rai said the team only made 50 kits in anticipation of the event, a free science festival that has taken place annually in Montgomery County for over 30 years and features a variety of family-friendly activities, exhibits and games.

“We thought, ‘There’s no way we’ll be able to sell 50—we’ll be fine,’” Rai said.


When the kits sold out in under four hours, she said she was blown away.

“At one point there were 25 kids crowding around our table all trying to launch rockets at the same time, while on the other end of the table Aditya was selling kits to parents,” she recalled. “It was an amazing experience.”

Since then, STEMChests has participated in 8 to 12 more workshops and distributed hundreds of kits across the county.


“We can really see the impact we’re having,” Das said.

Rai said they’re currently designing prototypes for a second kit, this time biology focused, that will give students the tools to grow plants and dissect strawberries. The team hopes to launch the new kit in the next couple of months, she said.

Tinsley told MoCo360 she’s been moved by the students’ ability to create an organization from the ground up, including filing for nonprofit status and collaborating with community partners.


“These students are absolutely incredible human beings,” she said. “Aditya truly cares about other people and the world around him.”

Four of the five student leaders making up the STEMChests team are headed off to college in the fall. Das, who plans to pursue a degree in engineering, said he and Rai are working on expanding the team to include juniors who can carry on the organization’s mission past their graduation and broaden its reach even further.

“Going forward, we’re trying to partner with bigger organizations so we can really expand our impact and hopefully spread nationally,” Das said.