Inaugural STEM Fest Allows Acadiana Students to Explore Big Concepts

Approximately 600 elementary and middle school students from Acadiana got to learn about complex science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts in a fun, interactive, and fully immersive way at the inaugural Acadiana STEM Fest, according to The Acadiana Advocate.

The event, Acadiana STEM Fest, was held in the University of Louisiana Student Union and was the result of a partnership between Peter Sheppard, the executive director for UL Lafayette’s Center for Excellence in Education,and STEM NOLA, a nonprofit focused on exposing communities to STEM learning opportunities.

In total, 40 activities, which were provided by STEM NOLA, were installed inside and around UL Lafayette’s student union and manned by UL Lafayette STEM and education students as well as volunteers from industry partners such as CGI and Fenstermaker. These 40 activities allowed 600 students from Acadia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion parishes to explore STEM concepts in ways that were much more inviting than traditional lecture and research-based methods.

The event allowed students to learn in nontraditional ways that were enhanced by technology. For instance, they could learn about how radio waves controlled drones by actually operating drones in a controlled environment or even learn about structural engineering by crafting sturdy, resilient structures made out of uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. The director of the event, Peter Sheppard, was reported as saying that he wanted the students to realize that opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge exist far beyond traditional classrooms.

Sheppard spoke on the value of Acadiana STEM Fest’s approach to nontraditional learning by saying, “I think curriculums are restricted. Schools are restricted in what they can do. Those restrictions aren’t there in the real world. Exposure to STEM activities gives them the space to think and to do it and to be curious without having to be evaluated or judged. It can be fun. It can be useful. It can be practical. It can be intellectual.”

Other than having the methods by which the students learn be different from their traditional classrooms, Sheppard also strived to remove any barriers to access for students who otherwise wouldn’t have frequent and free exposure to STEM programing, activities, and learning opportunities such as girls, minority students, and those students from underserved or under-resourced communities.

Speaking on the benefits of the set of skills that one can gain through STEM-based learning, David Hawkins, the director of operations for STEM NOLA, emphasized that the world is becoming more and more STEM-focused by the day, citing the “growing ubiquity of artificial intelligence and computer-controlled equipment and machinery.”

Hawkins stressed the importance of students developing themselves from a root center by challenging their minds; he said, “When we expose our kids to the possibility of being a tennis star or golf star, they put in the time, work, and effort for it. If we expose our kids to the possibilities of being teachers, engineers, doctors, scientists – we train them to move in that direction. Early exposure gives them encouragement and the motivation to move in the direction of STEM. The skillset you learn in the STEM fields transcends throughout your life. Regardless of what you do, you’re going to have to be analytical, solve problems and you’re going to be faced with challenges.”

According to Sheppard, Acadiana STEM Fest is the first of seven planned camp-style events that the Center for Excellence and Education and its Region 4 STEM Network Center are hosting at UL Lafayette in the next few months, which is branded as “STEMulating Summer 2.0.” These upcoming events as well as the inaugural Acadiana STEM Fest were made possible by grant funds from the Louisiana Board of Regents and its LaSTEM Initiative.

For more education-related information, click here.

Louisiana STEM Pathway Graduates Awarded

The Senior Class of 2020 has certainly had its share of challenges, but one group of 23 Louisiana seniors have completed rigorous STEM coursework, earning an impressive diploma endorsement. This news comes from a Louisiana Department of Education press release, in which the state’s first STEM cohort accomplished this admirable achievement.

State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley stated, “The Louisiana Department of Education applauds these students for being the first in the state to complete challenging sequences of STEM coursework and graduate with a diploma endorsement. “These students have shown they are ready to fill critical workforce needs in STEM career sectors. They are tomorrow’s computer programmers, process technicians, researchers, and medical professionals.”

This inaugural class of 23 Louisiana Seniors will earn a special endorsement on their diploma to mark the accomplishment of completing the rigorous STEM coursework, or coursework designed to prepare them to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math career fields.

Louisiana STEM Pathways was initially launched in 2016, and the program is a part of the Jump Start Initiative, Louisiana’s premiere, innovative career and technical education program (CTE). While Jump Start prepares students to lead productive adult lives, capable of continuing their education after high school while earning certifications in high-wage career sectors, the STEM Pathways specifically prepare students to seek a STEM degree in college or enter the workforce having earned certifications in high-wage career sectors. The program is designed for students seeking either a TOPS Tech Diploma or University Diploma, and they include biomedical, computing, cyber security, digital design and emergent media, pre-engineering, and pre-pharmacy.

Within just the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than 4,000 students among 81 Louisiana schools are enrolled in these STEM pathways, and more continue to join each year. After completing rigorous, challenging coursework, students are recognized and awarded with endorsements on their diplomas. Students completing four core courses in a single pathway are recognized with a silver endorsement, while those who go beyond the core coursework to complete four optional courses are recognized with a gold endorsement. OF this year’s crop of 23 graduated, 15 received silver and 8 eight received gold.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) sponsored the bill to create the STEM seal for high school students along with the state’s  LaSTEM Advisory Council. Hewill stated, “Over the next decade, Louisiana and the nation will see a surge in the number of job opportunities available in STEM fields. The Louisiana STEM Pathways represent one step forward in the state’s effort to better meet those workforce demands. We must continue to expand the program, as well as ensure students have exposure to STEM courses and credentials starting in elementary school and continued through college.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who chairs the LaSTEM Advisory Council reported, “A 2018 report by ACT showed 51 percent of Louisiana students indicated having an interest in STEM majors and careers. By exposing our students to this coursework earlier in their education, we can position them for success in college and beyond and position our state for economic prosperity.”

For more education related information, click here.