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STEM Outreach Through TU Students

Natalie 2Today’s blog post comes to us from Natalie Santa-Pinter, a junior Biochemistry major on a Pre-Med track from Choctaw, Okla.

Early in my college career, I began volunteering as a Reading Partner at Kendall-Whittier Elementary, a predominantly Hispanic school very near TU. I would walk or ride my bike to a small prefab each week and conduct a lesson with a child struggling in phonetics, reading or writing. This became a very humbling and rewarding experience, which propelled me into other forms of community service.

I recently found out that the number of 5th graders at Kendall-Whittier scoring “satisfactory” or “above” on the Science OCCT (Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test) dropped from 84% to 24% from the years 2011 to 2015. With all the advancements in technology, education, and access to both, I wondered how this could be possible.

I always knew there are many mental and societal boundaries placed around minorities in pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)-related studies and in attaining professional careers in these categories. However, the statistic still shocked me. It made me wonder, “How can I introduce individuals to opportunities and passions related to STEM that they may not normally have the chance to experience?”

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STEM2 officers and high school representative.

It was not long before I and a former student, Caleb Lareau, founded a TU student organization called STEM2 (Student Team Engaging Minorities in STEM). The vision of STEM2 was simple: to promote not just an interest, but an advancement, of young women and minorities in each of the growing STEM fields. How did we do this? We reached out to current students performing STEM outreach and began snowballing ideas. Pretty soon, we decided on a list of activities we could do, such as visit schools to talk about STEM, perform science demos for kids and hold on-campus events to stimulate the minds and growth of all generations.

Our largest event was last December on TU’s campus. The goal for the first-ever TU STEM Fair was to target high school students from underserved Tulsa neighborhoods and provide them and their families a day full of demonstrations, speakers, and knowledge from local organizations and students. The organization of the fair required quite a bit of planning. STEM

The organization of the fair required quite a bit of planning. STEM2 members worked hard garnering free T-shirts, admission waivers and donations for the event; ordering food, rooms, and supplies for the sessions; advertising to local high schools; and recruiting volunteers and organizations to interact with the attendees. I reached out to an inspiring mechanical engineer from the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida whom I had met at a conference last fall, and she graciously agreed to be our keynote speaker for the event.

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STEM2 members with Virginia Swindell, the keynote speaker for the day.

We hosted the fair in Keplinger Hall, and over 100 high school students, family members, and TU students and faculty showed! TU’s own Professor McCoy performed a variety of exciting physics demonstrations. Local and TU student organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, OU School of Community Medicine, National Society of Black Engineers, and TU NASA (just to name a few) occupied booths downstairs and talked about the vast array of opportunities in STEM. We provided people with tours of the University, free lunch, and a student and admission panel. Our keynote speaker, Mrs. Virginia Swindel, gave a motivational and engaging talk about the prevalence of STEM in our world and how anyone could attain a career in this field.

The entire event was a success, and afterwards, many attendees expressed how excited they were to now pursue studies in STEM. A few hoped we would host the fair every year! One comment was, “The event was excellent and I hope to attend it next year if it is held again. It exceeded my expectations in every way.”

Contributing to the expansion of the next generation of STEM professionals is a truly rewarding experience. Nothing compares to the satisfaction felt when providing someone an opportunity they previously thought was impossible, or nonexistent. As members strive to make a difference in as many lives as possible through STEM2, they learn about the value of education, action, and community.