Middle school students’ interest in college may STEM from CAC’s scientific field day

By Guy Harrison, Media & Marketing Specialist

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - More than 160 students descended upon Central Arizona College's Signal Peak Campus on Friday, Feb. 18, for the Next Generation STEM Leaders Project, a middle school student field day sponsored by CAC, AREA Foundation, and Helios Education Foundation.

Students from the J.O. Combs Unified School District, the Casa Grande Elementary School District and the Toltec Elementary School District were split into eight groups that toured the campus and participated in activities illustrating several of today's hottest trends in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. Some of these activities included robotics, "genetic cupcakes," and renewable energy.

In robotics, a lecture presented by CAC instructor Pete Lomeli, students were introduced to toys that were powered by the concept of robotics. At the end of the lecture, students were able to utilize some of toys, ranging from a dancing robot to a wildcat to a racecar track.

"He's got nice moves," quipped one of the students about the robot.

Rebecca Adams, one of the students in attendance, took the gyrating android for a test spin.

"It has so many controls," she said in amazement.

In another classroom on campus, students received a tasty illustration of how human genetic code works. In "genetic cupcakes," students were instructed to dress up a cupcake with specific icing colors as well as candies such as licorice and Skittles. Icing represented hair color while the candy represented limbs, eyes, and other parts of the body.

"This shows the students that everybody's genetics are different," Mary Holland, the CAC professor who instructed the session, explained. "This activity gives them a visual of human genetic code."

As is the case in real life, there was one instance of identical twins during the activity, two cupcakes made of the exact same genetic code from students sitting adjacent to each other.

Renewable energy also was on the slate and students were placed into teams where they were charged with the task of creating the best wind turbine while using paper plates. The students sat on the floor, some coloring their plates for aesthetic effect, while designing and constructing the instrument that would generate the most electricity.

When the teams were finished, their turbines were placed in front of a fan and attached to a device that measured the turbines' electrical output.

The teams, instructed by Kristen Benedict, created incarnations of turbines large and small, ranging from the usage of entire plates to those who just made four small scoop-like pieces out of their plates. The students huddled around the fan and watched for the electrical readouts with anticipation as their turbines moved.

At the end of the day, Adams, who aspires to one day become a scientist, could appreciate the relevancy of the day's activities to current STEM trends.

"Science is important in life, and it's very different now than it was in the past, that's for sure."

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814