More than 100 students from area middle and high schools gathered recently for the fifth annual So You Think You Can STEM competition. The event, hosted by the University of West Georgia College of Education (COE), was themed “Stranded in STEM.”
“This competition draws our brightest middle and high school students to campus, engaging them in problem-solving challenges that draw on their creativity and skills in science, technology, engineering and math,” said COE Dean Dr. Dianne Hoff. “Passion for these fields begins at a very young age, and we are so proud to encourage these students toward a bright future.”
The students operated in small teams for several workshop sessions and a live quiz bowl. The theme of this year’s event was borne out in tasks that charged students with designing a net and using different materials to make their own sunscreen.
So You Think You Can STEM focuses on collaboration, innovation and thinking outside the box. It provides a unique opportunity for students to explore the areas of STEM and learn through a dynamic and engaging approach.
“This is my first time attending an event like this here at UWG,” said Allie Born, a freshman at Bowdon High School. “It’s been really fun. The experiments and projects are unorthodox but useful in showing all of the real-world applications a STEM-based education can be used for. Now, if there are certain situations that happen in my life – like being stranded on a desert island and needing to design a net or make my own sunscreen – I’ll know how to tackle those challenges instead of going in blind.”
For Roy Rosado, the father of a senior at Douglas County High School who attended the event, So You Think You Can STEM is a good opportunity to reinforce topics he’s stressed in the past.
“Science and technology drive our state, nation and world economy, and students who have capabilities in those disciplines will be ahead of the curve globally,” Rosado said. “For younger students, events like this are supposed to open their minds, but for older ones like my daughter, their minds should already be open to all you can do with a STEM background. I’m grateful for events like this that reinforce the ideas we’ve made a priority to focus on in her life.”
The all-day event was made possible with the help of volunteers and members of the UWG community. Lindsey Robinson, director of COE’s Fusion Center, played a significant role in the development and function of the competition.
“The annual STEM Competition provides students with an opportunity to grow and expand their knowledge in a safe, fun, and hands-on environment,” Robinson said. “The variety of events gives the participants the opportunity to collaborate and communicate as a team. The College of Education’s Fusion Center understands the importance of hands-on inquiry-based learning, and the competition enhances what grade 6-12 teachers are already doing in their classrooms to promote relevancy between content and real-world applications.”
The event is tied to schools in Carroll County and beyond, with STEM teachers from the region bringing classes to participate. While students take part in activities and experiments, the teachers engage in professional development and collaboration.
Wanda Johnson, a middle-grades science teacher at Oak Mountain Academy, said she’s excited to bring students to the event each year so they can challenge themselves and so she can collaborate with her fellow teachers in the area.
“As a teacher, I love to work together and speak with colleagues who are facing the same challenges and opportunities I’m facing as we try to expand our students’ knowledge in STEM,” Johnson said. “This event is an incredible opportunity for collaboration and gives me the chance to step back, compare my practices to those of other teachers, and ask myself what I’m doing well and what I need to kick up a notch.”
So You Think You Can STEM also involves current COE students at UWG, with students assisting in the testing of younger students’ projects and facilitating a written quiz bowl.
Dr. Brent Gilles, an assistant professor in COE, said the competition is a “great opportunity” for UWG students to gain experience in a non-traditional setting.
“This event provides more exposure for them to instructing students and may give them some ideas for what they want to do in their classrooms after they graduate,” Gilles said. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved. The middle and high school students get to engage in inquiry-based experiments that challenge all the knowledge they’ve gained during school and apply it to real-world problems, and our university students get to work with students and help them solve problems.”