More than half of American adults say the primary reason young people don’t pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is because they think these subjects are too hard, according to recent research conducted by the Pew Research Center.
However, Morgan State University’s Science Engineering Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEEMA) has found a way to proactively address the need for minority youth involvement in STEM subjects by developing an annual event which provides students with a fun, interactive, hands-on, ‘minds-on’ alternative to learning disciplines traditionally known as either difficult or boring.
MSU’s eighth annual STEM Day Extravaganza was held on September 14, 2019 at the university’s Hill Field House, and once again showcased a variety of fun STEM-related activities for school-aged children including astronomy, model airplane building and flying, life science activities, engineering design and construction, math and science games, rocketry, robotics and various NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) educational activities.
“STEM is our life. It’s what we live and breathe,” said Jonathan Wilson, the STEM Day Extravaganza coordinator.
Wilson, project director for Morgan State’s MUREP Aerospace Academy, was elated to host the STEM Day Extravaganza for the eighth year. Due to enrollment limitations on the Saturday Science Academy, the STEM Day allows students in the community and throughout the state of Maryland to engage in some similar hands-on activities, he said.
“Science, technology, engineering and math is important for every aspect of our lives, and we do not have enough professionals in the STEM fields in the U.S.,” Wilson added.
“Many old people like myself are retiring in all aspects— local, national, and federal agencies and we don’t have enough young people to take our places. So we continue to get this type of program going so that we can get [students] excited and motivate them to think of STEM and remove the fear of doing STEM.”
Most of the exhibits present additionally provided parents with educational techniques and materials to keep their children interested in academics, specifically in the STEM field.
“It’s an eye-opener for the kids and the parents as well,” said Vercera Brisbon, who came along with her grandson Daequan Railey, a student in BMAA Saturday Academy and third grader at Baltimore International Academy. Brisbon said she found out about the annual extravaganza through the Saturday Academy and was delighted to have been involved in the 2019 event.
“I hope that he’s learned a little science, a little more math, and he’s learning about engineering so I hope he takes interest in one of those three subjects. But there’s still a lot to go around and find out about, so when he leaves I’m hoping he picks up a little more than what he left with.”
Though a few vendors from last year’s event weren’t able to participate this year, Wilson was glad to have had one new vendor join the exhibits: the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The other vendors in attendance, all of whom participated in previous years, were American Nuclear Society; American Society for Biology; Army Research Lab; Baltimore MAA Instructors; Benjamin Banneker Museum; Carnegie Institute for Science: Bio Eyes; Exelon; Maryland Science Center; Maryland Space Grant Consortium; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; and several others.
“As you can see, they don’t want to leave. They love it. They said this is fun, this is exciting,” Wilson said. The extravaganza also holds the potential of added recruitment for the Saturday Academy program. Wilson expounded upon his and his colleague’s efforts to deliver a fun alternative for STEM involvement.
“In the STEM area subjects, some people think ‘oh, it’s not for me.’ They’re too scared. No, science, technology, engineering and math is all fun.
“That’s why we teach by [children] playing and then learning. And we need more of them to go into these fields when they come to college.”
Billie Partlow, a former BMAA instructor for high school students, has been a vendor since the extravaganza’s inception in 2012. Her exhibit, named “heart and mind,” focused on the effects of space travel on the body systems. The objective of the Partlow’s exhibit is for participants to understand how the nervous and cardiovascular system functions. She went on to explain why STEM is so critically important for black youth.
“Minorities or African-American children have been denied these privileges. It’s like our children don’t have the ability to learn technology and they’re not math wizards— yes they are. They’re just like any other child,” said Partlow who was also a former physics teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools. “I’m glad that whoever thought of this STEM thing note that our children need this for tomorrow as well as today… the STEM program is the best thing that could’ve happened.”