STEM Summit combines science and fun

Alyssa Pressler
  • Red Lion recently hosted a STEM Summit for Junior Achievement to get students interested in STEM subjects.
  • Students cycle through nine stations over two days and participate in STEM competitions and games.
  • Students say the summit inspired them to take science classes in high school.

Emily Heiss, a junior at Red Lion Area Senior High School, never would have taken organic chemistry if it hadn't been for the STEM Summit in her freshman year.

Ninth-grader Kiersten Lloyd laughs while competing at the electrical station during the STEM Summit Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, at Red Lion Area Senior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

The high school is in its third year of hosting the science, technology, engineering and mathematics event, which is provided for all freshman through Junior Achievement. The national organization offers programs related to work readiness, entrepreneurship and STEM for students of all ages.

According to Tom Russell, president of Junior Achievement of South Central Pennsylvania, the regional office has been hosting STEM summits at local high schools for five years. Kennard-Dale High School, in the South Eastern School District, was the first to participate. Junior Achievement gathers local business volunteers and has them prepare activities for ninth- or 10th-graders to work with.

Red Lion has all ninth-graders participate in its STEM Summit. Approximately 400 students go through nine stations over the course of two days. Students spend 30 minutes at each station, working with the volunteers to learn and practice concepts.

Ninth-grader Madison Galloway, right, and volunteer Eric Meisenhelder watch as their air cannon shoots out smoke to demonstrate air movement during the STEM Summit Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, at Red Lion Area Senior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

For example, students learned about physics by pushing air through a garbage can and shooting a cannon. They played games with cards and other math tools, learned to search for viruses in fake urine as a part of the biology station and worked as engineers by racing other groups to create a circuit board that would set off the gym's scoreboard buzzer.

Heiss, along with fellow junior Derek Etter, was a student volunteer at this year's summit, which took place Dec. 7-8. Both said the summit, which was brand new when they were freshmen, encouraged them to explore science fields later in school.

"It gave me a better understanding of chemistry for when I took it the following year," Etter said.

That's exactly the type of response Sarah Warner, a science teacher at the high school and the person who coordinated the summit with Junior Achievement this year, hopes for.

Warner said the time of year the summit is held is strategic because it's right before students begin to pick elective classes. Students often talk to counselors about activities they liked at the STEM Summit, which allows counselors to steer them toward classes that can further that interest.

The summit also puts students together with working professionals who use aspects of their demonstrations every day in their line of work.

Eric Meisenhelder, an applications engineer with Johnson Controls who participates in the summit, says the volunteers have fun alongside the students.

"It's fun, it's enjoyable," Meisenhelder said. "I like doing this as much as they do."

Warner said a list of community volunteers with contact information is made available to every ninth-grader after the summit. In years past, students have reached out to businesses for career shadowing and internship opportunities.

"The sooner we can get kids exposed to STEM, the sooner they can find a career," Warner said.

She went on to say that too often students are pushed to look toward the next step, such as college, a vocational school or the military, but when they get there students don't know what they want to do or realize it wasn't what they expected.

This year, ninth-graders Abigail Brenneman and Jose Long said they enjoyed the chemistry and physics portions of the summit. They said they would "definitely" be signing up for more science classes, all thanks to the STEM Summit.