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For RPS 205 students, fun begins with STEM

In just a half-hour, four industry panel members at the STEM Summit covered lessons some college students take years to absorb: Don’t procrastinate. Study the difficult material first. Everyone fails sometime. Enjoy learning.

Ten students from each high school and middle school in the Rockford Public Schools attended the April 24 summit at Rock Valley College. It was a partnership with the college, RPS 205 and the Pi Gamma Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

The day began with the panel of professionals: Neysa Alicea, a mechanical engineer at UTC Aerospace Systems; Angelique Carter, a reliability and safety/test engineer at UTAS; Doreen Meikle, a clinical nursing manager at Beloit Memorial Hospital; and Mischelle Nelson, a medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.

STEM Summit 2015As far as advice to the students, each panel member had variations on the theme: Just get it now. The math, chemistry and physics you do now will form the foundation of what you need to do in college.

Doreen Meikle put in a strong plug for her profession, which will need an infusion of young people in the next decade. “I need to see more nurses,” she said.

RPS 205 Superintendent Ehren Jarrett’s request was that students take advantage of the summit and its glimpse at careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Be inspired and connect, he urged the students.

The students were also entertained. More than 120 strong, they broke up into five groups to attend demonstrations in chemistry, math, DNA and human biology.

The RVC folks knew their audience. There were a lot of explosions, fires and dropping things off balconies. You could palpate pig hearts (in gloves, naturally). A faculty member with an Einstein-like wig made ice cream with liquid nitrogen.

My personal favorite was a chemistry demonstration. An RVC faculty member “tortured” a gummy bear, using potassium chlorate to create a combustion that seemed to go on forever. Poor bear. Or maybe I liked the ball of dish soap bubbles better. One instructor cradled the ball in her wet hands while another instructor lit it. She threw the flaming ball up into the air. Her hands were safe because water is a poor conductor of heat.

Some students were already sold on STEM careers even before the summit. Tiahna Garcia, an eighth grader at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, says she wants to be a surgeon. She seemed bored by the penny flipping, spinning and balancing experiments to demonstrate probability.

Lucky her that controlled fires were breaking out just down the hall.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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