Teenager Max Miller Raises $300K to Teach Coding and 3-D Printing to Kids With Cancer

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 2:48PM
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 2:48PM
Teenager Max Miller Raises $300K to Teach Coding and 3-D Printing to Kids With Cancer
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Image credit: Sunrise Day Camp
These days, kids are growing up in a world with X-ray vision drones, cute personal robots, 3-D printed Mario Karts, and giant mechs. Unfortunately, lots of kids are missing out on all of it—about 10,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year, and though the majority will recover, going through treatment means almost all of them miss out on learning science, art, and math during the school year. Max Miller wants to fix that.

Max started out as a camp counselor at Sunrise Day Camp, a summer camp for kids with cancer. He was already a self-professed tech geek (he knows over a dozen coding languages), so when one of the campers told Max that he wished he could learn to code, Max decided to create a program to help introduce kids to computer science at Sunrise. At the time of writing, Max has already raised $300,000 to create the S.T.E.A.M. Shack, a building where kids can learn to code, use 3-D printers, and more.

We sat down with Max ahead of his appearance at the 2017 Maker Faire to talk about the project.

Outer Places: Tell me a bit about yourself—what got you into robotics, programming, and tech?

Max Miller: I've always had an interest in technology. When I was in middle school I spent a summer at EXPLO at Wellesley College. That is where I first learned to code. I was then asked to be the captain of the newly formed Friends Academy Lego robotics team. At 13 I built my first computer and took a Raspberry Pi coding class at Hofstra University. Subsequently I went on to join the upper school robotics team, of which I am currently the team captain.

OP: What's the coolest piece of tech you've worked with so far?
Max: I am intrigued with 3-D printing and its potential for the future. It has already streamlined the process of designing and prototyping products. I believe that eventually almost everything will be 3-D-printed. The applications being developed in the medical field such as printing human organs for transplants, or printing food for third-world countries is amazing. I've modified/upgraded my own 3-D printer by printing parts such as a cable management system, filament lubricator and stabilizers. I've also set up a Raspberry Pi with a webcam to remotely control and monitor my printer.
OP: Are you a fan of science-fiction TV, books, or games? If so, do you have any favorites?
Max: I love science fiction. Right now I am obsessed with Game of Thrones. But I love Marvel comics and their movies. My favorites have to be Deadpool and Iron Man. I am also a Whovian and a frequent Comic-Con attendee (I have currently been to ten Cons). I love video games[...]
OP: What parts of the upcoming S.T.E.A.M. Shack facility do you think campers will enjoy the most?
Max: [With] air conditioning, the S.T.E.A.M. Shack is literally and figuratively the 'coolest' place at camp. Other than the A/C, the kids share my enthusiasm for 3-D printing. Although most people have heard about 3-D printing, very few have actually experienced it firsthand. The look of awe on a camper's face when they watch something they have designed appear before their eyes is priceless.  

OP: I've noticed that some of the kids in photos with you are running Minecraft on Kano hardware. What are your thoughts on the game?
Max: I love Minecraft because it gives you the opportunity to design and create your own virtual world. It is especially fun when it is modded. It was my first introduction to PC gaming and my inspiration to build my first gaming computer. It's a great way to introduce the basics of coding to the kids because many of them are already familiar with it. The Kano Computer Kits let you hack Minecraft, make Pong, Brickbreaker and Snake, all using graphic-based coding.     
OP: What's it been like to be at the center of all this fundraising and planning? Does it make you anxious or excited?
Max: Coming up with the idea of the S.T.E.A.M. Shack and seeing it become a reality has been an incredibly exciting experience for me that has forced me to step out of my comfort zone. Although it has only been a little over a year since this process started, it feels like much longer. I remember how nervous I was when I first presented the idea to the camp director and senior staff, and when I met with the board of the Laura Rosenberg Foundation, who gave us the initial $150,000 grant to jumpstart the program.

Since then I have had meetings and conference calls with dozens of sponsors and partners including Makerbot, Kano, CEWIT at Stony Brook University, and the Cradle of Aviation Museum. I've never considered myself to be a great public speaker, but in the past year I have been asked to speak at several events including the EisnerAmper Pivotal Tech Conference and [a benefit hosted by] Liincs. I have also given tours of the S.T.E.A.M. Shack to executives from companies such as Nikon, 1-800-Flowers, Sunrise Toyota, Skechers, the Mets, and Beth Page Federal Credit Union. Although I still get nervous, I have become much more comfortable speaking in front of groups of adults.   
OP: What are your plans for the future?
Max: Currently I am in my senior year and I am focused on applying to college. I want to major in computer science/engineering, and would like to go to school in California, which I consider to be the epicenter of the tech community. Simultaneously I have big plans for the S.T.E.A.M. Shack initiative. This year we plan to bring the program into the pediatric oncology wards at the hospitals that offer the Sunrise on Wheels program, expand the program to the other Sunrise Day Camps, develop an academic portal at STEAMShack.org, and begin construction of the new S.T.E.A.M. Shack building, which I helped design, [which] is slated to open next summer at Sunrise Day Camp [in] Long Island.

You can check out the Sunrise Day Camp website here, learn more about S.T.E.A.M. Shack here, and see details about the Shack's upcoming appearance at the New York Maker Faire 2017 this September here!

S.T.E.A.M. Shack is also giving away a Kano Pixel Kit and Nikon camera to celebrate the 2017 Maker Faire—enter here!

Image credits: Sunrise Day Camp
Science News