Student Mini Grant: STEM Saturday Educational Outreach

Image of students who benefit from this organization

The Project

STEM Society is a student organization that aims to expose K-12 students in lower socioeconomic areas to inquiry-based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We hope to displace common stereotypes that students may have about accessibility to STEM education and careers, as well as increase their awareness about the diverse opportunities available in these fields. In addition, we strive to provide our organization members with a chance to advance their interests in teaching and sharing their passion for STEM. Through presenting STEM in an engaging and interactive manner, we hope to broaden students’ knowledge, challenge any beliefs they may have about the inaccessibility of STEM, and spark excitement and passion for pursuing a STEM education. We also hope to promote diversity and inclusion in the STEM fields by reaching out to groups that have historically been underrepresented in higher education or STEM careers and showing them that if they have a passion for STEM and motivation to pursue it, that they belong in these fields as much as anybody else.

Our STEM Saturday teaching event is held once each semester. During this event, we bring students from the Detroit area to the University of Michigan Campus to participate in a full day of hands-on STEM learning activities.  The goal of this day is to introduce students to topics, areas of study and careers in the STEM fields that they may otherwise not get exposure to.  The schools that are selected to come often lie within districts with poor funding for STEM funding, and their student bodies are often comprised of students with backgrounds that are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM education and careers. Through this selection process, we hope to heighten our impact by reaching those who may have the biggest barriers to gaining a knowledge of the opportunities in STEM, either due to a lack of resources or due to the negative impact that stereotypes can have on individuals’ views of their capabilities. STEM Saturday consists of two main components: interactive lessons in diverse STEM topics and opportunities to learn about higher education.

Image of student using microscope

Throughout the day, each student participates in several different lessons in diverse STEM topics (some examples are computer science, environmental sustainability and genetics). Lessons are designed by our organization, and can range in subject depending on what members passionate about sharing with others. While we encourage creativity and variety, we encourage all lessons to adhere to a few main components. Our lessons present background concepts of the subject, explain how the topics impact students’ lives and the world in general, and explore how professionals in the field use these concepts in their work and academics. Most importantly, we encourage all lessons to include active participation, which we believe is vital to sparking curiosity and long-lasting interest in STEM. This component can occur through experiment demonstrations or hands-on projects or contests that will engage students in the topic and encourage them to use problem-solving and inquiry-based learning.

Students are also presented with several opportunities to interact with organization members and explore any questions that they may have about STEM or higher education. For one hour of the day, students are taken on campus tours led by a handful of STEM Society members. For many students, this day is their first time stepping foot on a college campus, providing an excellent opportunity to spark their enthusiasm for higher education by giving them a positive experience. With our event being based in the Undergraduate Science Building, we show them some of the STEM-related buildings around that area, while also exploring popular spots like the Diag and the Hill residential area. Along the way, students are able to converse with their tour guides and get to know some friendly faces. 

Image of student and mentor working on the computer

At the end of the day, all students participate in a structured panel. Each panel consists of several STEM Society members with varying areas of study, career goals and backgrounds that led them to higher education. We address questions on pursuing college, the realities of higher education and college life, and career planning, among other topics. While we have prepared questions at hand, students are encouraged to raise their hands and ask about any specific questions they may have. This is an excellent opportunity for the students to clear up any confusions, misconceptions or uncertainties they may have about pursuing a STEM education.

 

Anticipated Results

We hope that through our efforts on STEM Saturday, we can help K-12 students to realize the vast opportunities in STEM and the excitement that can come from having curiosity and engaging in inquiry-based learning. We hope to broaden students’ knowledge of what a STEM education and career entails, and of how rewarding and fun the pursuit of this field can be. STEM Society also aims to break down misconceptions about the inaccessibility of STEM and to make students believe in their ability to succeed in STEM fields and learn complicated topics. By breaking down this barriers and stereotypes, we aim to introduce people of diverse backgrounds to STEM and give them confidence in seeking higher education and careers, and we aim to inspire students to have fun, be curious and use problem-solving to succeed in whatever futures they decide to pursue.

Grant funding was utilized to purchase materials for demonstrations and hands-on experiments. This includes items such as chemical reagents, microcontrollers, hydraulic kits and microscope slides. Having the resources to conduct engaging and well thought out experiments and demonstrations is essential to our ability to spark students’ enthusiasm for STEM topics. Being able to financially support the development of new lesson plans and experiments allows us to creatively improve upon our teaching methods and provide memorable and impactful experiences to our students.

 

Next Steps & Library Mentorship

Although our STEM Saturday event for this semester was canceled, we hope to host STEM Saturday this coming fall and make it an even more impactful event thanks to the resources introduced to us by the Library Student Mini Grant. Our library mentors were Samuel Hansen and Alexandra Rivera. Sam and Alex were very knowledgeable about STEM educational outreach and provided us with many resources to expand our lesson repertoire, including online databases for STEM experiments and demonstrations, contacts within the mathematics and engineering departments, and information on organizations with goals similar to ours. These resources will be essential in the continual improvement of existing lessons, and the creation of new and engaging lessons for future STEM Saturdays. Sam was also able to put us in contact with a library employee who aided us in designing a new promotional video for STEM Saturday. Through this, we were able to find access to campus resources for filming equipment and gain expertise on creating a storyboard for our video. Although we have not been able to produce this video yet due to the cancelation of our spring event, we are hoping to complete it this fall and utilize the video as a resource for outreach to schools and sources of funding. Sam also put us in contact with a website designer to aid us in updating our STEM Society website. We believe that the upcoming revitalization of our video and website will be very useful to continuing to recruit new schools, as well as seeking out additional funding to support the design of new lesson plans. We are very grateful to the University of Michigan Student Mini Grant, as well as our library mentors, for the support of our STEM Saturday educational outreach event.

Image of STEM Saturdays team

 

Denise Bilbao and the STEM Society team are students at the University of Michigan who aim to expose K-12 students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to the STEM fields