Vail Daily column: Cultivating STEM stars
It’s not often that you meet a seventh-grader asking questions about college, especially ones specific to science majors. The Walking Mountains Science Center STEM program attracts students that are invested in a future of science and learning. As a STEM educator, I have encountered many special and driven students. Some students are so inspired by the program and its values they take charge and coordinate their own schedules with coaches and teachers to balance multiple extracurricular activities. I’ve watched many of my students take an active role in committing to the interactive hands-on program for all three years.
The school year is well underway and here at Walking Mountains Science Center we are excited about our continued partnership with Eagle County Schools that helps to awaken a sense of wonder through our in-school science programs. Every year, Walking Mountains organizes and implements the Avon In-School (kindergarten through fifth grade), Girls in Science (third through fifth grade), and STEM Leadership Academy (sixth through eighth grade) programs. We are proud to offer STEM, the Science Technology Engineering and Math program, available to boys and girls, for our third year in a row.
Reflecting on the wonderful students in STEM there is a special participant that inspires me; Becca, an eighth-grader at Homestake Peak. Becca started in the Girls in Science program and joined STEM as a sixth-grader to continue the fun and education she experienced at Walking Mountains. Becca is an enthusiastic advocate for STEM. She brings friends to meetings to share her excitement and even participates in public events to educate the community about the program.
I am always impressed by Becca’s curiosity and insights. I recall a conversation we had after STEM about females pursuing undergraduate degrees in a STEM field. She asked, “Is it true there are scholarships available to girls in STEM?”
After telling her “yes!” she started making plans to pursue a science degree. Her current thoughts are to become a biologist which was inspired by a STEM project where she separated DNA from fruit. Becca’s drive and curiosity for science was especially notable in August when I brought her, along with a group of STEM students, to the Colorado Women’s Foundation Vail Valley chapter luncheon. Becca was the first to ask if she could meet Anna Fisher, an astronaut attending the luncheon. I’ve never seen Becca more starstruck than when she got an autograph and picture with the International Space Station veteran.
It was refreshing for me to see how Becca looked up to Anna as a role model when so many of our youth are consumed by pop stars and athletes. Becca’s experience with our programs is a fantastic example of why Walking Mountains in-school programs are vital to the success of our youth. Our STEM program is now offered as an elective at Gypsum Creek Middle School along with expanding the program for eighth-graders this year at all the public middle schools in Eagle County. For the past three years we’ve grown these programs at a steady pace and are pleased that we continue to reach more students every school year.
You can learn more about Walking Mountains’ STEM program by visiting http://www.walkingmountains.org/stem
Amanda Hewitt is the STEM coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center and is working toward completing her Doctorate of Education in teaching and learning.
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