WHIPPANY, NJ: Middle-school science students who need help with their homework can get tutoring from Amazon’s Alexa, thanks to a skill developed by Bayer.
The Science Studio skill offers step-by-step instructions for building an "Alka-Rocket," slime and more. It’s had about 2,500 activations in participating school districts.
"It’s widely known that we don’t have enough STEM grads in America to fill the current jobs we have," said Ray Kerins, SVP and head of communications, government relations and policy at Bayer U.S.. "This has been a challenge we’ve seen for years. Bayer, we’re a science-based company, we can either complain or we can do something about it."
Each experiment includes scientific explanations to teach students about STEM concepts. The activation is part of a larger Bayer program called "Making Science Make Sense" that it launched 24 years ago to help the company engage students, Kerins said.
Exploding growth in the connected home category convinced Bayer to add an Alexa Skill to its outreach. A Consumer Technology Association study found that 31% of American households have smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo. The number of people who own smart speakers has doubled in each of the last two years.
Bayer conducted a small rollout for the Alexa Skill, limited to Indianapolis school districts because the company wanted to ensure the approach could be sustained in communities in which it operates, Kerins said. The company plans to donate Echoes to schools nationally.
"We’re going to do this across the nation," Kerins said. "We’ll work with students and teachers to get this up and running. The hope is Bayer will remain part of the class curriculum."
Four years ago, Bayer pledged to have hands-on STEM engagements with 1 million students. Kerins said Bayer surpassed that goal a year ahead of schedule. With the Alexa Skill, it’s committing to have 5 million hands-on engagements with students by 2025.
"We believe wholeheartedly we can do that because we’ve embraced new technologies, such as Voice and Alexa," Kerins said.
Ruder Finn developed the skill. It’s the third time the firm has done so, said chief growth officer Rowan Benecke. One was an internal resource at the agency, and the second was an internal skill for pharmaceutical client AstraZeneca, he said.
"How do you get kids excited about science, about math? Well, you speak their language," Kerins said. "You don’t speak adult language. You speak their language. This is what brings us to voice."