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Central York students experience STEM hands-on
Walking on eggs, using air as a cannon and absorbing career advice were among the activities Central York High School freshmen engaged in as part of a two-day summit focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
The event was brought to the school by Junior Achievement of Southern York County and had students switch through nine sessions of simulations, games and career insight.
“You never know what you’ll find, what you’ll see and what you’ll hear today that will inspire you,” said Kim Zech, director of the JA STEM summit.
She said the summit, the organization's 100th so far, was not to convince the students to pursue any one career field but instead to inspire them to “follow their passion,” whether in STEM or not.
The exercise is an opportunity for students to explore their options, she said.
Activities: All of the activities consisted of 30-minute sessions on topics related to STEM fields. Six activities were held in the school’s gymnasium, and professionals working in technology companies around the county volunteered to take part. Two sessions had career panels featuring people in STEM-related careers, and one class had students writing code.
“I think that not enough people are interested in STEM, and I think that this helps with diversity, (including) getting women and people of color,” Johnson Controls engineer Tashiah Myrick said.
“It’s about getting them involved early on, since they’re freshmen,” Myrick’s partner Everett Hettema, also a Johnson Controls engineer, said.
Myrick and Hettema taught students principles of physics and had students engage in several hands-on activities to better understand the concepts.
One activity had students hit the back of a large container that held smoke from a fog machine. When the container was struck, a smoke circle burst from a hole cut in the bottom of the container. Students were tasked with aiming the burst of smoke and striking a cup placed on a peer’s head several feet away.
After each activity, Myrick and Hettema explained to the students the principle of the activity.
In the case of the smoke fog circles, they explained the physics of a toroidal vortex (the container and the fluid dynamics that allow the air to move in and out of the container).
Other activities included a relay focused on teamwork and accuracy, an event that literally had students walking on eggshells to demonstrate using chemicals to make reactions with polymer, as well as listening to real-world professionals talking about their careers.
“It’s been fun,” Cameron Aliaga, 15, said of the day’s activities. “It’s really informative, too.”
Importance: One of the career panelists said she has seen the change from STEM being a male-dominated field to being more equitable. Barb Steiber, a clinical instructor in immunohematology at WellSpan, explained to students, particularly girls, that STEM is open to them.
"It's gender neutral," she said.
Steiber said she remembers the nudging by many people when she was younger to stay in typically female-dominated fields.
“'Oh, be a teacher, be a nurse, be a homemaker,'” Steiber recalled people telling her. “'You can’t do science, that’s for guys.'”
“Things are a lot different now,” she said.
Steiber was paired in a room with Mark Raschke, a project manager at American Hydro. They said describing their career fields helps students realize the diversity of STEM, with Steiber in the medical field and Raschke in the engineering realm.
“One of the students asked us what a typical day was like, and we chuckled and said we have no typical day,” Steiber said.
Raschke said the STEM day can serve as an eye-opening moment for students in their career search.
“We don’t always end up where we want to be,” he said. “Science and engineering fields can take you anywhere.”
Steiber stressed the opportunities in STEM fields for students, who are now studying in more blended learning environments. She said she remembers the first Earth Day when she was a junior in high school, and now many women are at the top in fields such as environmental science.
“You can do whatever you want,” Steiber said. “Now, it’s just a given. Forty years ago, it wasn’t.”