STEM School Chattanooga was buzzing with activity this past weekend when 40 students from six counties across the region convened for the Southeast Tennessee STEM Student Council Kickoff event. Increasing educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has been an important initiative among educators and employers in recent years as leaders work to prepare students for high demand jobs of the future.
Saturday’s event was filled with hands-on STEM activities, conversations with local STEM professionals and discussions about the students’ roles as STEM leaders. “The goal of the STEM Student Council is to give students the opportunity to take on leadership roles in STEM and learn skills they will use when they enter the workforce,” said Tracey Carisch, Managing Director of the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, the organization responsible for this and other STEM education programs throughout the region. The application process required the students to write short essays on the role of STEM in addressing world problems and the STEM careers they intend to pursue.
“Being a part of the STEM Student Council is opening my eyes to a whole new way of thinking,” said Madisen Buckner, a junior at McMinn County High School. Her classmate, Camila Rodriguez, also a junior at McMinn High School said, “This STEM Student Council is exposing me to STEM-based careers and helping me learn more about what STEM professionals do on a day-to-day basis in their work environment.”
Throughout their tenure on the council, these students will be challenged to think creatively and cultivate partnerships with local businesses. On Saturday, the STEM Hub’s Director of Learning, Keri Randolph, led the students through hands-on, engineering activities. Students used spaghetti and other materials to build towers and created roller coaster models out of pipe insulation. “The foundation of strong STEM education is problem-solving and collaboration,” said Randolph. “To prepare student for STEM careers, we need to give them opportunities to collaborate and develop solutions to problems. That’s exactly what these students will be doing during their time on this STEM Student Council.”
The STEM Innovation Hub staff will continuously support the students as they divide into team and conduct their own STEM projects. The local community of STEM professionals will also play an important role for the STEM Student Councilmembers. Each the student project team will be assigned one or two STEM Mentors. These volunteers from the STEM workforce will give their teams guidance, ideas and feedback as the student work on their projects throughout the year. Mary Lou Mangan-Lamb, a biostatistician at BlueCross BlueShield, attended Saturday’s event and will also serve as a STEM Mentor for one of the student teams. “I was very impressed by the students’ thought-provoking and relevant questions during our discussion on Saturday,” she said. “I am really looking forward to working with these young people in the coming months.”
STEM Mentors and their STEM Student Council teams will begin working together this week. Both students and professionals are preparing to learn from one another. “I think it’s really neat that we get to do these projects and work with kids from other schools,” said McKenzie Weigert, a junior at Signal Mountain Middle High School. Her team’s project will focus on providing fun, hands-on educational experiences for young children to inspire more kids to get involved in STEM.
“We are looking forward to the year ahead,” said Keri Randolph of the STEM Hub. “I think we will all be blown away by what these young people are able to accomplish together this year."
STEM Student Council members talk with Gemree Fe de Leon, a communications engineer an UNUM