As the STEM Discovery Lab at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester nears the end of a successful pilot year, the program is eyeing expansion and growth in the coming years. Sarah Jacobs, UNH Manchester’s acting director of the STEM Lab, said the university is developing plans to expand the program offerings in the coming year, which will include hiring a full-time STEM Lab director. “A work group comprised of faculty and staff from UNH Durham, Manchester, and the Cooperative Extension are developing a three-year plan for the STEM Lab, which will include a robust curriculum for the fall,” Jacobs said. The STEM Lab - the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics - provides students at the elementary, middle and high school level with unique educational opportunities that encourage curiosity, exploration, and teamwork. “The lab provides a great opportunity for students to not only develop their confidence, but it also provides a unique experience at their state university,” Jacobs said. “I am inspired when I see the yellow school bus arrive and watch the stream of children from a variety of backgrounds come into the lab at the historic Pandora mill, knowing that with each passing week, this becomes their university,” she said. The STEM Discovery Lab has three dedicated classrooms, a conference room and offers classes in the electrical engineering laboratory. In its first year, the lab introduced students to such programs as “Orion‘s Quest,” where students analyze data from experiments comparing the impact zero gravity versus earth has on butterflies and worms. Students share their observations with scientists on the International Space Station. In a UNH student designed and taught class, “Disaster Detective,” students examined man-made environmental disasters including the impact of oil spills on their environment. In other classes, students learned how to create a video game by learning computer programming from scratch and how to design a mobile app. Jacobs said the idea behind the STEM Lab is to start providing courses in all of the STEM disciplines in an effort to be part of providing a well-educated local workforce. But to go from idea to reality, the program needed kids to teach and somebody to get them to UNH Manchester. Enter the Granite United Way, which identified students in its programs for the pilot courses and provided a grant for transportation. Patrick Tufts, president and CEO of Granite United Way, said the United Way’s participation was part of its commitment to provide kids with better opportunities. “The why is simple - to get these kids the opportunity to get this education they may not have otherwise had,” he said. “We had the dollars and we had the relationship with the kids. So we were able to make these connections for them.” Jacobs said the United Way’s participation was essential. “They have been a critical partner because they helped identify the students who have participated, provided transportation and other logistical support,” she said. Tufts said giving students tools like the STEM Discovery Lab is a community responsibility. “It’s really important that not-for-profits, school systems, universities and businesses collaborate to give these kids opportunities,” he said. Most of the lab’s classes are part of three, six-week terms, one that ran in the fall, one running from February through March and the last taking place in April and May. In addition, two more advanced classes have also been offered for high school students. In one, a 26-week engineering class taught by SilverTech founder and CEO Nick Soggu, students are brought along the engineering spectrum by starting with learning basic computer programming to eventually build their own robot. Another 16-week class, called “Tech Startup Boot Camp” and taught by Tom “T.K.” Kuegler, co-founder and general partner of Wasabi Ventures, aims to teach students not just how to come up with an idea, but also how to create a startup company and bring it to the market. For more information about UNH’s STEM Discovery Lab, visit the lab's webpage or contact Sarah Jacobs.
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