Gretchen Engel welcomes you to STEM Club. The first rule is: have fun!

Gretchen Engel welcomes you to STEM Club. The first rule is: have fun!

August 31, 2017

By Gretchen EngelIMG-7780_cropped2

This past spring, I had the opportunity to volunteer for STEM Club at my daughter’s elementary school. STEM Club was open to all third-graders on a first come, first served basis. While I was excited about this club for my own daughter, I also realized the importance of this club for her school and the entire community.

Gretchen's daughter at STEM Club

Gretchen’s daughter at STEM Club

We live in a rural part of Arizona. My daughter is the child of two engineers and has many people in her family with degrees in STEM fields, but this isn’t the case for many of her peers. As is the case in much of rural America, adults with a high school education are the norm and parents with college degrees are not as common. For several of the kids, STEM Club was probably their first exposure to STEM education and the wide variety of career fields open to them.

I grew up in a mid-size but lower income city in the United States Midwest and went to a small IMG_6849rural high school. I received an excellent science and math foundation, but technical careers weren’t necessarily promoted. I was unusual to have parents with college degrees (nurse and pharmacist). Most of my classmates were the first generation to go to college or their children are.

IMG_6847The class centered around the engineering process defining science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Their project was to learn about the science of bubble making, technologies that could be employed in making bubble wands, engineering design and mathematical calculations (primarily geometry). The students kept notebooks with their ideas, materials used and their objective (a lot of small bubbles, one large bubble, or wands that produced a steady stream). Each week they worked on their designs and made notes of what worked and what didn’t.IMG_6647

I was amazed at the creativity of these students and how some went above and beyond, taking their ideas home and trying new designs on their own time and reporting back to us the following week. The enthusiasm of eight- and nine-year-olds is contagious! My hope is that some of these students take this experience to pursue STEM careers.

IMG_6643For the engineering process, they learned a version of our Plan, Do, Check, Act. Along with assisting the teacher who led the class, I was often able to give them real-world examples of how I’d used the engineering process in my job that week or tell them about other STEM professionals I know who worked on improving household products from shampoo to cell phones.

To continue what we’ve started with STEM Club, our extended community received a Rural Activation and Innovation Network (RAIN) grant from the National Science Foundation. The RAIN grant is unique because it focuses on rural communities rather than urban areas, where most STEM education funding is spent.buttle

I’m hoping to become more involved in the committee overseeing the use of this grant as well as participating in some of the programs generated from it. I have found volunteering in STEM Club to be incredibly rewarding and FUN!

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August 2017

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