An Evening of Celebration at the STEM Discovery Lab

By Kim Wall
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Posted in: UNH STEM Discov...

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Kaylin Gartland, an elementary student from the Manchester School District and Dr. Lauren Provost explain their class, Chemical Gardens in Space, to UNH Alumni Board member Harold David and his wife Dorothy. (Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services)

Worms, earthquakes, and digital communication boards. These were just a few topics of discussion at Monday’s reception celebrating a successful pilot program of UNH’s STEM Discovery Lab, located at the University of New Hampshire’s Manchester campus.

The STEM Discovery Lab has offered weekly classes from six to 26 weeks in length since opening its doors in September 2013. Classes ranged from specialized content within a single STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) discipline to fully integrated STEM learning experiences.

The Granite United Way’s Bring It program helped make the pilot program a success by providing transportation for local students. Through the Bring It program, 150 students in grades 4-12 from 10 Manchester Schools were able to participate in the program.

Patrick Tufts, president and CEO of Granite United Way, is excited about the collaboration and the opportunities the lab provides to students.

“Our society’s definition of literacy has undergone a radical transformation in the last generation,” explained Tufts. “It is no longer enough to make sure that our students understand basic reading and math skills. Today’s employers see literate employees as those who can gather, interpret and accurately respond to a variety of information sources.”

Derek Burkhardt, lead teacher at the STEM Discovery Lab and biology student at UNH Manchester, is helping students become more literate in his class, Disaster Detectives, which he designed for middle school students.

“The course encourages students to analyze and problem-solve man-made disasters caused by obtaining renewable and nonrenewable resources,” Burkhardt explained. “But the real focus of my class is providing a means for students to discover, ask thought-provoking questions, and develop concrete answers.”

In another classroom, students learned about Chemical Gardens in Space, a NASA based program called Orion’s Quest. They studied various creatures that have been sent into space to determine the impact of zero gravity on these creatures. The course is taught by Lauren Provost, professor in the UNH Department of Education.

“The worms, for example, live inside a chamber that is stored within the International Space Station,” explained Provost. “The students collected observations and data are used in actual NASA research.”

“The most remarkable aspect of the learning experiences in the lab was the high level of interest and engagement. Learning objectives were clear, measurable and aligned with national content standards,” explained Provost, who helped develop programs for the lab.

And, arguably the most important result, students are engaged and enjoying the experience at the lab. “The students have been excited about the technology and new concepts learned in class,” said Tufts.

Tufts sees the STEM Discovery Lab as one of the major connection points between the business, municipal and non-profit communities. “Projects like STEM give our community a chance to prepare tomorrow’s workforce for this new expectation. They help us to develop locally grown talent to fill Manchester jobs, serve Manchester residents, and support Manchester causes,” he said.

Texas Instruments, a global semiconductor company with an office in Manchester’s mill yard, is one example of such a business.

“As an employee of TI in Manchester, I’m excited to see first-hand how we are helping to develop future engineers who may even become TI employees one day by providing cutting edge technology and access to TI’s academic resources,” said Jack Olson, vice president and general manager, DC solutions.

“Exposing children and teens at an early age to STEM subjects opens the doors to endless educational and career opportunities,” said Aleta Stampley, Texas Instruments director, K-12 education & community relations. “The new STEM Discovery Lab at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester is the perfect example of an effective hands-on STEM learning experience for students.”

The University of New Hampshire in Durham, Concord and Manchester are committed to doubling the number of STEM graduates by 2025.

UNH President Mark Huddleston recognized that there is an enormous deficit of students who graduate with expertise in the STEM disciplines. “Jeremy Hitchcock of Dyn recently stated that he is trying to hire at least 50 engineers and he can’t fill those positions,” said Huddleston. “This is just one company, and it’s emblematic of the challenge New Hampshire faces.”

“Our nation will hear the story of the STEM Discovery Lab as a model,” said Provost. “Most importantly, we want students leaving, thinking, 'Wow, I’d really like to go to college someday'.”