Alcorn Middle School student Kadaisha Miller said she had never given much thought to a career in engineering.
But after building paper rockets and launching them with soda bottles Thursday, she’s not ruling out the possibility.
The Richland 1 seventh-grader isn’t the only one re-thinking her options after a full day of hands-on math and science activities Thursday in downtown Columbia.
About 400 middle school students from 18 schools took part in the Columbia Urban League’s third Youth Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Expo, which exposes middle school students to career opportunities in math and science.
This year’s event focused on technology and emphasized social media etiquette because of the pervasiveness of social media bullying among youth.
“Technology is ever-changing at a rapid pace which significantly affects our health, business, education and many other facets of life,” Urban League president and CEO James T. McLawhorn said. “It certainly is a driving force behind our global workforce competitiveness.”
Thursday’s Expo was held at EdVenture and IT-oLogy, where students created robots, rockets and boats, and learned about such things as 3-D design. During one session, students constructed DNA brackets, using various color beads to identify traits like eye color, hand dominance and attached or unattached ear lobes.
“I really liked (creating) the card box city,” Alcorn’s Kadaisha said regarding one of the day’s activities. “Our group just created things that we would like in our own city.”
The STEM program targets all students, but educators note there has been an added emphasis on females and under-served students who might not otherwise embrace such careers.
Alcorn Middle math teacher and robotics coach Nadin Edney said the expo and similar efforts are helping students expand the way they view future opportunities.
“All the kids talk about being in the NBA or the NFL, but we want them to think more about math and science,” Edney said. “It gets them out of their immediate community so they are exposed to other careers.”
Marc Drews, EdVenture’s education incentives manager, said he hopes Thursday’s visit and others like it will inspire more students to become inventors, designers and builders.
“I would love for them to go back saying that math and science are awesome,” he said.