STEM Week kicks off at FSU

Courtesy of MetroWestSTEM.com

The first Massachusetts STEM Week began Monday, Oct. 22 with various educational events hosted at the University and other schools in the MetroWest area throughout the week.

STEM Week is an initiative from the Baker-Polito administration’s Massachusetts Stem Council “aimed at sparking student interest and knowledge” in STEM subjects, according to a May press release from the Massachusetts State Government’s website.

“While we know that STEM education happens all year long at schools across the Commonwealth, we look forward to the hands-on projects and lessons that will be on display during STEM week,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in the press release. “Creating opportunities for more students to pursue STEM fields after high school will continue to improve our education system, workforce, and economy.”

Over the span of the week, there were over 50 events held in participating schools and institutions in the MetroWest area, organized by the MetroWest STEM Education Network (MSEN). MSEN was created in 2007 and is headquartered at FSU’s Christa McAuliffe Center of Integrated Science Learning.

STEM Week was designed to bring attention to the need for strong STEM programs statewide, according to Margaret Carroll, dean of STEM.

“It’s really about building that pipeline – especially through K-12,” Carroll said.

On Tuesday, Oct. 23, the University hosted Rep. Joe Kennedy, who came to give a talk about “how we as a community can do something about climate change and promote transformative solutions,” according to the promotional email from Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego. This event was part of Arts & Ideas’ “The Moon Landing in Context” series.

Senior Jace Williams said she liked how Joe Kennedy applied his great-uncle and former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s speech on the Moon landing to the issue of climate change.

“As a sociology major, that’s super relevant to me, and it’s cool to have it recognized as a social issue as well as a science one,” Williams said. “Plus, he was super encouraging to STEM and non-STEM majors alike, which is super uplifting.”

Carroll also found his speech uplifting and said his prepared remarks were inspiring and thoughtful. She added Kennedy answered questions from the audience in a hopeful way.

Carroll acknowledged the hard work of representatives from the McAuliffe Center in organizing the STEM Week events. They put together a series of planetarium shows, a STEM career showcase, and space mission simulations for local schools and groups.

Evan Pagliuca, manager of education programs at the McAuliffe Center, said, “It’s great. It’s lot of work in planning it, but it’s great.”

For STEM Week, local businesses made monetary donations to the McAuliffe Center to cover the cost of transportation for students, as well as to cover the use of the Center, according to Carroll. The Center, depending on the types of educational programs, charges schools $400 to $525, according to the McAuliffe Center website.

The Center also invited STEM professionals to participate in the programs with the visiting students.

Pagliuca said that by the end of STEM Week, approximately 280 fifth graders and middle school students will have visited the McAuliffe Center.

The MetroWest chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters was one of the groups that visited the Center and also had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Kennedy after his talk.

FSU faculty members hosted middle and high school students in the Hemenway Labs or volunteered their services at other schools in the MetroWest area.

Carroll said an online system was created by MSEN for scientists, professors, and other professionals in the MetroWest area who wanted to be involved in STEM Week by volunteering their time and expertise to local schools.

Carroll said jokingly, “It’s kind of like an online dating service.”

Vinay Mannam, chemistry and food science professor, was invited to talk at Keefe Regional Technical School in Framingham about the sciences and STEM opportunities at FSU and the surrounding community. 

On Saturday, Oct. 27, Mannam will be teaching workshops for Milford and Marlborough middle school students as part of the Future Scientists to Framingham State program. For this event, Pagliuca said there will be approximately 50 fifth graders and middle school students in attendance.

“They are going to participate in four one-hour-long workshops – they’ll be here all day. It’s a collaboration between the McAuliffe Center, the College Planning Center and the College of STEM,” said Pagliuca.

Mannam said, “It’s always interesting to organize workshops for middle school and high school students because we have to think differently. They come with a different level of enthusiasm and curiosity, and that kind of fresh look also helps us to design curriculums for college students as well.”

There will also be a workshop for parents of children who are interested in a future in STEM fields.

Carroll said, “So, it’s kind of an event to get kids excited and simultaneously help parents.”

Although Mannam was not able to attend the Kennedy talk because of his invitation to Keefe Tech, he liked that the talk on climate change showed how science-related issues can affect everyone.

“It’s good to see how science influences our day-to-day lives,” said Mannam.

Carroll said STEM Week’s impact will improve FSU’s and the surrounding community’s awareness of STEM.

“I think it helps FSU in general, because anything we do that raises our profile in the community helps us as an institution,” Carroll said.

Senior biology major Manu Kazadi said, “I think it’s a great idea. There aren’t a lot of African Americans currently in the STEM program and I think awareness will help raise more diversity.”

Senior biology major Dada Le said, “I think it’ll be great – especially for women – because there aren’t a lot of women in STEM.”

Sophomore and pre-engineering major Mike Au said, “Sounds like a good opportunity for students, but I don’t think it’ll do much because I feel most students don’t really take advantage of these little programs … but I’m sure the people that want it would pursue it.”

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