|Students on a STEM Quest at West PointStory and photo by Mike Strasser
Assistant EditorJust a short time after the Corps of Cadets vacated the classrooms and laboratories for the summer, West Point faculty opened its doors once again for a STEM Quest.
The Center for STEM Education hosted the 3rd annual West Point Middle School STEM Workshop May 29-June 1, with 110 students from throughout the nation participating in this hands-on exploration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Before all the learning began, students were divided into platoons and squads, tasked with designing and building a team sign using K’NEX building blocks. Creativity and engineering quality counted in this project as each one was judged for points added to the scores from the STEM Games at the end of each day.
The games included a bridging competition, robot rodeo and pulley contest. Second Lts. Bret Larson, Jeff-Antoine Pierre-Louis and Jeremiah Watson—all recent Class of 2012 graduates—presented their capstone project to the students.
Their project, an innovative stretch earplug remover, earned first place in the 2011-12 AbilityOne Design Challenge and the newly-commissioned officers traveled to Washington, D.C., Wednesday, for a congressional reception to receive their award.
At Bartlett Hall, Bill Richardson provided an introduction to physics with demonstrations illustrating the principles of this discipline. Richardson, an instructor in the Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, and other instructors involved in the workshop, incorporated one concept throughout the day’s instruction: “Math is the language of science.”
“You have to speak the same language if you want to be proficient or an expert at the highest level,” he said. “It’s dependent on how much math you learn. If you’re interested in science, dedicate yourself to math as if your life depends on it.”
Maj. Brian Holloway, physics instructor and Army engineer, applied the principles of electricity and magnetism in a variety of “science tricks,” including the ever-popular and hair-raising Van de Graaff generator.
The large electrostatic ball aptly shows how an electric field comes from static charges, whereas other demonstrations showed how a magnetic field derives from moving charges.
Inside the National Science Center’s Mobile Discovery Center, students learned how the two halves of their brains divide the work of artistic and analytic tasks.
At one of the laboratories inside Bartlett Hall’s new Science Center, students applied basic chemistry principles to create strings of nylon, blobs of Gak slime (a take-home souvenir) and polyurethane foam, while Maj. Corey James, a Chemistry and Life Science instructor, demonstrated a simple recipe for making rocket fuel.
Students also experimented with different tests to measure blood pressure, body fat, lung capacity and strength in a physiology lab. Lt. Col. Donald Outing, mathematics professor, demonstrated how math is applied to code making and code breaking, and students also learned a little hacking courtesy of Computer Science instructors.
Class of 2014 Cadet Trevor Knowles was among the eight cadet mentors—all majors in the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering—charged with leading student squads to each activity and on tours of the academy.
Knowles said it was important for him to get involved in the workshop, because STEM outreach helps the country develop the future scientists, mathematicians and engineers it needs to compete globally. The earlier this can be done in a student’s education, the better, he said.
“I didn’t participate in anything like this until high school,” Knowles said. “I was on a robotics team with the engineering technology program in high school. We did a lot of cool stuff. I also worked construction all through high school, so that helped, too.”
Although most students would see summer as a time for pursuits other than academics, Knowles said his group was receptive to the activities they offered.
“We got the students into the labs and into the classrooms and they jumped right into it,” Knowles said. “They’ve shown they want to learn, but they can have fun at the same time.
“This was also an opportunity for me to show them what I really enjoy and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s been fun for me because the students are really excited and brought a lot of energy each day,” he added.
Class of 2013 Cadet Joseph Speight also participated in the workshop last year and said the group of students he mentored were a smart group, highly motivated and—for whatever odd reason—really enjoyed marching a lot.
“This was an interesting experience, and a good way to begin my firstie year,” Speight said.
Seventh-grader Andrew Staton didn’t mind the marching since he found nearly everything fascinating; so much so, he couldn’t choose what he liked most about the workshop. The past three days have encouraged him to think more about future engineering studies and maybe even attending West Point.
The workshop ended June 1 with a graduation ceremony inside Arnold Auditorium with family members in attendance.
Students received certificates of completion, a STEM Strong wristband and a hardcover edition of “The New Way Things Work” by David MacAulay. Col. Stephen Ressler, director of the Center for STEM Education, described the workshop as a good shot of energy to get the students excited about STEM disciplines.
After they leave West Point, they’ll be responsible to study hard, seek out further educational opportunities and participate in STEM competitions.
“I hope STEM is in your future,” Ressler told the students. “But STEM is only in your future if you’re willing to invest right now in doing the hard work necessary to make it possible.”
This means taking the right math and science courses, Ressler said, and not just the easy ones or waiting too long to enroll in them.
Students should sign up for algebra, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and physics and chemistry courses before finishing high school.
“This amazing opportunity that you’ve seen just a glimpse of these past few days won’t be there for you because you won’t be able to catch up if you wait until college,” Ressler said. “Do the work now and invest. Invest and the payoff will be huge in the years ahead.”
The STEM workshop was co-sponsored by the U.S. Military Academy Office of Admissions and supported by the National Science Center and the National Defense Education Program.
To learn more about West Point’s involvement with STEM initiatives, visit www.usma.edu/cse/.
More photos of this event have been added to a gallery at www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/.