Saint Martin’s University Science Exploration Workshop Brings Fun, Learning to Boys & Girls Clubs Kids

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Another purpose of the workshops was to broaden awareness and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.


By Gail Wood

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Saint Martin’s University welcomed 38 students from the five branches of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County.

A rocket launches, a robot is made entirely out of Legos, an eye peers into a microscope – learning is happening, a peek into how math, science and engineering work at Saint Martin’s University.

About 38 students from five different branches of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County took part in an afternoon of fun and learning at the Science Exploration Workshops at Saint Martin’s University on a sunny March afternoon.

“This is why they call me the miracle worker,” Aiden said gleefully as he pushed the remote controls of the Lego robot he put together.

Aiden, an 11-year-old from Tumwater, was maneuvering his robot across the floor, trying to outsmart a friend’s robot.

“It’s fun,” Aiden said about the engineering workshop. “It’s exciting. I’m more of a football player, but I’m pretty good at math and science.”

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Saint Martin’s students led a workshop on angle of trajectory in rocket launches.

Throughout the spring semester, Saint Martin’s will host five STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workshops. University professors and students organize the activities, giving the kids a hands-on-experience with learning. Part of the day’s objective is to stir a student’s interest in science, math and engineering.

Joe Ingoglia, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County praised the partnership with Saint Martin’s University. “Not only do these workshops promote learning that will stick with the kids, but it also gets them interested in careers or degrees they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. And the best part is that it’s taking place on a college campus that is right in their own backyard.”

“Many of our kids come from lower income households and will be the first in their families to attend a university—a feat that may seem impossible to some,” continued Ingoglia. “This partnership will break down many of those barriers and help them realize that a college degree is accessible and attainable. We are extremely grateful that Saint Martin’s is willing to change kids’ lives in this way with us.”

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Interactive workshops meant that kids were hands-on with Saint Martin’s students and professors.

“At the same time, the workshops encourage our college students to refine their presentation skills, nurture their passion in these subjects and actively participate in community service,” added Genevieve Canceko Chan, Saint Martin’s vice president of marketing and communications. “For many, learning to love science starts with a hands-on experience.  By taking them out of their familiar environs and having workshop leaders who are almost peers, closer to their age than their teachers, we can change the young student’s thinking from ‘I have to learn this’ to ‘I want to learn this.’  And for our Saint Martin’s students, what better way to reinforce their decision to study and pursue a career in these subjects than to be a mentor and possibly inspire another generation to love what they love.”

Aaron Coby’s biology group walked to an on-campus pond for an up close look at an ecosystem. The Saint Martin’s associate professor of biology had collected samples earlier. “We try to stay away from presentation stuff. It’s all interactive,” said Coby. “They’re all doing something.”

After exploring the pond, Coby and his group went to the lab and the students examined the water samples under a microscope.

“They try to identify organisms living there and try to think about who and what role those things play in the ecosystem,” Coby said.

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Another purpose of the workshops was to broaden awareness and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Besides having fun, the event is an attempt to broaden awareness and to spark interest in a science field. In Associate Professor of Engineering Paul Slaboch’s workshop, the objective included helping students define what an engineer is and what they do.

“A lot of students come in with a preconceived notion of what an engineer does, or they might not even know,” Slaboch said. “We’re trying to get them involved with different types of engineering and to get students to expand their idea of what an engineer is.”

To help them define “mechanical engineer,” Slaboch had his group build Lego robots or remote controlled cars with motors and sensors.

There were directions to follow to build the Lego robots. But Aiden and his friends, with the help of Saint Martin’s students, came up with their own designs.

“That’s what engineers do,” Slaboch said. “We have to find solutions within restraints. We’re trying to teach them how to do that and use all the tools available to them to accomplish that.”

Shane Moore, an engineering major at Saint Martin’s, was as enthusiastic as the kids were about the challenge of putting together the Lego robots. He would answer any questions and gave plenty of encouragement.

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Boys & Girls Clubs kids also took a tour of the Saint Martin’s University campus.

“I hope they got a good idea of problem solving,” Moore said. “I also hope they got a better idea about the different programs that STEM offers.”

Moore was impressed with how the kids worked together to figure out how to design their Lego robots. Of the nine kids in that class, eight had never built Lego robots before.

“It was awesome,” Moore said. “They had fun playing with something they built.”

Slaboch said attracting tomorrow’s engineers is crucial. There’s an increasing demand and a growing shortage of engineers coming out of college.

“I believe Washington is one of the largest importers of engineers,” Slaboch said. “We have a huge need here in Washington and only a handful of schools are pumping them out. Washington, in particular, imports a lot of engineers from out of state and overseas simply because of the need with all of the high-tech in Seattle.”

Outside on the lawn, by Cebula Hall, young students excitedly launched rockets. Under professor Steve Parker’s and University students’ supervision, Boys & Girls Clubs kids pumped the launching tube and then released a trigger, sending the small rocket sailing 50 or 60 yards across the field.

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Saint Martin’s University hopes that these workshops will get kids excited about continuing their education in science fields.

“The objective is for the kids to have fun and to show them how fun science, math and engineering stuff can be,” Parker said as he watched kids measure the distance their rockets traveled. “Hopefully, this will help shape their future thought and get them thinking about taking science classes.”

The objective was to see who could shoot their rocket the farthest. That required experimenting with angles of the launch to determine which angle worked best.

“And they’re competing for a fabulous prize in the end,” Parker said with a smirk. “It’s for a sugary treat.”

Natasha, who visits the Lacey branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs after school, enjoyed shooting rockets across the lawn.

“It’s lots of fun shooting rockets,” Natasha said.

The mathematics experience involved launching rockets and hitting targets on a computer screen, measuring the angles and resulting distances. The chemistry workshop included the study of light.

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County CEO, Joe Ingoglia, hopes that this experience will break down some barriers for kids and show them that a college education is accessible and attainable.

“I got to learn about light and the different types of light,” said Ian, who is 13 and attends the Rochester club. “The gases and the atoms in that light makes them different.”

In addition to the hour-long, hands-on experience, the kids were also given a 15-minute campus tour. Each group was given a look at a certain area of the college.

“This is an opportunity to bring kids onto the campus, kids who probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to go onto a university campus,” Coby said. “It’s a way to let them see what university life is like. That’s one layer of the experience.”

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