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STEM lessons take root in Connellsville schools

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 5:43 p.m.
Dr. Andrzej Gapinski, associate professor of engineering at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, explains the design of an electromagnetic relay to a class of Connellsville Area High School sophomores as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) camp

The 1,400 students of Connellsville Area High School recently experienced a series of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) camps unlike any they have experienced before.

In the camps, a collaboration between Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus and Intermediate Unit 1, Connellsville students did not travel to the Penn State Fayette Campus; instead, the professors of Penn State came to the students.

Dr. Tammy Stern, director of curriculum and federal programs for the Connellsville Area School District, was inspired to put together this program by the feedback that she received from previous STEM camps.

“The IU1 STEM Center held Camp Tech at our junior high school last summer for students in grades 3-8,” she said. “I received tremendous feedback from students and parents. I wanted to replicate that same model for our students in grades 9-12.”

Stern authored a proposal for the Falcon Foundation and submitted it to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for consideration.

“In order for the Falcon Foundation to be eligible to receive the EITC funding that is supporting our Senior High Camp Tech (and other STEM activities), I had to include activities that were STEM-related and extracurricular,” she said. “We also needed to propose activities that would include all of our students K-12. We have already completed the other STEM activities at the elementary and junior high levels.”

She said that having the Penn State professors come to the school resolved a lot of logistical issues.

“The benefits of having the activities at the building, as opposed to sending students out, are that we avoided transportation costs and issues. We did not need chaperones, because the children were with their classroom teachers during the activities. We partnered with All About Learning to provide STEM-based Lego activities at each grade level. We also partnered with the Carnegie Science Center. They have ‘Science on the Road' Programs, whereby they send their staff members to our buildings to work with the children on various STEM-related activities. I received wonderful feedback on those programs.”

Stern hopes that students see the value of STEM training.

“Our goal in providing STEM-related activities to all of our students is for the student to understand how science, technology, engineering and mathematics are interrelated,” she said “Hopefully, they will also see the relevance in the activities and become exposed to various STEM-related careers and potential opportunities. Some of the careers that I have heard that our students pursue in this area include the Marcellus shale drilling, mining, and other forms of engineering.”

Joe Segilia, director of continuing education at Penn State Fayette, is proud to be a part of such an innovative program.

“This STEM Camp is the first of its kind in this region, and quite possibly the Commonwealth,” Segilia said.

He said that STEM training helps students prepare for a rapidly changing world.

“It promotes career awareness of STEM-related fields,” he said. “Students are exposed to these areas of knowledge. They have the chance to connect with professionals who work in these fields.

Segilia believes that STEM training has many practical applications.

“Scientists are the inventors, the innovators,” he said. “Engineers build and maintain our infrastructure. Technology experts build and design our computers. Math is the basis for all of these things.”

Dr. Joe Shostell, professor of biology at Penn State Fayette, believes that STEM training equips people to solve the problems that plague humanity.

“These people are the ones who will find ways to provide for a growing population without impacting the environment,” Shostell said. “They will devise better farming techniques. They will find ways to reduce our waste and recycle more.

“These young minds are our future,” he said. “Our job as a nation is to encourage children to enter the STEM fields. Without those new minds, our society will become stagnant.”

Dr. Bo Schatschneider, professor of chemistry at Penn State Fayette, wants to give students the head start that he didn't have.

“No one gave me a heads-up on job opportunities,” Schatschneider said. “I want to let our youth know what's available. Some people will choose chemical engineering. Others will choose computational chemistry. Some people will want to teach chemistry to others.”

Sixteen faculty members from Penn State participated in this program.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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