Middle school students problem-solve at NDSU
Published February 24, 2016
A group of middle school students huddled together to build a contraption meant to launch a pingpong ball into the air. They created a domino effect using a classroom chair, string, textbooks, Jenga pieces and toy trains.
Laughter filled the room with each unsuccessful attempt. Finally, the pingpong ball soared through the air. Success. High-fives and more laughter followed.
The Rube Goldberg Machine activity was one of 14 sessions held in NDSU’s engineering classrooms on a snowy Thursday during winter break. It was part of BrainSTEM, an event organized by the College of Engineering and the American Association of University Women, that brought 175 seventh and eighth graders to NDSU to learn about science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.
BrainSTEM is just one of the programs NDSU hosts that succeeds because of collaborative relationships built with industry leaders and local communities. The College of Engineering recruited volunteers and organized the lessons. Session leaders included 12 area industry professionals, NDSU faculty members and engineering student-volunteers. Faculty from Mayville State University, Concordia College and North Dakota State College of Science also led sessions.
The event introduced the next generation of professionals, young women in particular, to STEM. According to the American Association of University Women, women make up about half of the American workforce, but only about 26 percent are professionals in STEM fields. In some STEM disciplines, such as engineering, the numbers are even lower. Almost all of the BrainSTEM workshops were led by women to demonstrate these career paths are available to anyone.
NDSU has many programs to get kids involved in science, technology, engineering and math activities, known as STEM. A new event at NDSU brought together local professionals and faculty from area colleges and universities to teach the next generation of professionals about STEM.
“If someone enjoys solving problems and excels at math and science, we want them to feel like they belong in STEM occupations,” said Alexa Ducioame, engineer at Moore Engineering and volunteer at the event. “Our goal with BrainSTEM is to open the door a little wider, so that all kinds of people with the right skill sets will feel welcome and make our industry even stronger in the future.”
BrainSTEM sessions are designed to give students hands-on experiences that make learning fun and reinforce what they are studying in school. Students problem-solved, built and designed projects like circuits, medical devices and marshmallow shooters. They played math games to learn about probability and even practiced DNA extraction.
NDSU’s information technology department taught a session that introduced students to computer science basics.
“It was a great opportunity for NDSU to serve our community and provide some learning opportunities that the students might not have had otherwise,” said Marc Wallman, vice president of information technology. “I hope the program was as enjoyable for the students as it was for us.”