Kids go full STEM ahead
In an age of smart phones, tablets and an app for virtually everything, it seems as though kids are more attuned to science and technology than ever. But, technological savvy doesn’t necessarily mean more young people are considering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
For Heritage University, filling the need for more science majors means building kids’ interests long before they even start looking at colleges.
“Young kids are always asking why, why, why,” said Nina Barcenas, Heritage University biology professor and chair of the Science Department. “We want to nourish their intrinsic curiosity and make them realize their potential in STEM careers.”
To this end, the university recently initiated several events for middle school kids to help them build a love of science and math.
In February the university and its partners (Educational Services District 105, Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, University of Washington GEAR-Up and Yakima Valley Community College) launched the first South Central Washington Science Olympiad. Teams of middle school students competed in events ranging from math and engineering to anatomy and botanical sciences.
The team with the top overall score moved onto the state competition in April. The event brought in nine teams of 13 students from throughout central Washington.
“Science Olympiad is collaborative, competitive science,” said Cresanna Zeigler, who manages the university’s labs and is a member of the event’s organizing team. “The students had to practice and study throughout the year so they could perform at the higher level required to compete.”
In April, more than 250 middle school girls came to Heritage’s campus for the mentoring program, Expanding Your Horizons. The event partnered groups of girls with a cadre of volunteer mentors, all professional women working in STEM fields in the greater Central Washington area. The mentors took the girls through hands-on workshops such as video game design, soil analysis and working with a prosthetic arm, and then talked to them about their own career paths.
“Our girls need strong role models who are passionate about what they do,” said Allison Hutchinson, academic and career advisor at Heritage and coordinator for Expanding Your Horizons. “It was great seeing these girls so engaged.”
This was the inaugural year for both events. Given their success, organizers expect they will be held annually.