Igniting STEM careers in the next generation
Thanks to the many Pantex and Y-12 volunteers who help ignite science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the next generation.
“When I was in school, I didn’t have …” is a common refrain from generation to generation. Maybe we first heard the phrase from our elders, and now find ourselves repeating it to school-aged children we know. One reason we may say this is because of the many options students have to learn about possible career fields, including the various opportunities science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, fields offer. During February, more than 100 Pantexans and Y-12ers once again shared their love for and knowledge of STEM with Panhandle and East Tennessee children during area Science Bowls, Engineers Week, and Introduce a Girl to Engineering events.
“It would not be possible to reach these students without the volunteers who give their time and energy to students,” said Kristin Waldschlager of Y-12 Educational Outreach.
Darla Fish, Pantex’s Educational Outreach lead, agreed. “It is our many volunteers who make the STEM programs successful. Without them, it would be much harder to make an impact on students.”
Volunteers Hannah Bradshaw, Channing Sparks, and Stephanie Steelman of Pantex and Carol Adamson, Cole Bewley, and John Brasher of Y-12 shared why they support STEM events.
Adamson said, “For me, it’s important to share my knowledge with students in order to offer them a different perspective on STEM that I was never afforded as a kid — to let them know that if they’re interested and willing to learn, that’s all it takes.”
“The U.S. as a whole is not focusing on STEM,” Steelman said. “We are not requiring math and science courses as much as we did 20 years ago. By exposing kids to STEM activities at earlier ages, we might pique enough interest for them to start taking math and science classes in middle school and think of STEM professions as a possible career path.”
Several CNS volunteers were fortunate enough to learn about STEM venues while they were students. For Sparks, it was part of her Girl Scout training.
“I participated in a few STEM activities as part of Girl Scouts or at the recommendation of a teacher who had a passion for STEM,” she said. “Many kids have the talent and minds for STEM careers, but they may not be afforded the same opportunities. Sharing my knowledge, journey, and experiences may just be the thing someone needs to hear to push them in the right direction to being a STEM all-star!”
Bewley’s STEM experience in school helped make him who he is today. “I was exposed to STEM activities in middle school, but I became heavily involved when I started high school. At Morristown Hamblen High School East, we had a fantastic program that allowed students to take a variety of STEM classes based off their interests in various topics,” he said. “I was always interested in engineering, so I took all of the basic engineering and fundamentals classes (drafting, robotics, programming, design) that were offered. I believe that my high school STEM experiences played a huge role in allowing me to be successful in college and find a career that I love at Y-12.”
One thing all volunteers love to see when they participate in STEM activities is the children’s reactions when they understand it.
Brasher said, “You don’t know what you don’t know, so by exposing others to your ‘world,’ we foster a more inquisitive mind and show them a new shade of color from the Crayola box. My favorite part of volunteering is seeing kids light up when they see what is possible.”
“When kids start to click with the concepts of engineering, it’s wonderful,” Adamson said. “We had a lot of examples of this at the Industrial Engineering booth at pre-COVID-19 IGTE events. Most girls had no idea what industrial engineering was, but after going through our push/pull process optimization exercise, they were able to see the concepts in action and understand how it could make a difference.”
Bradshaw said, “Everyone knows there are doctors because everyone has been to a doctor. There are countless ways to help people, and letting students know engineering is one of those opportunities is important. It’s rewarding seeing students get interested and start asking questions about things.”
So the next time you see a OneSource announcement asking for volunteers to help with STEM activities, sign up. As Sparks said, “It is important for kids to see themselves in someone who is volunteering because they can relate to them and their experiences, while also knowing that they have the potential to follow the same path or even pave new paths in the STEM world.”