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Keeping STEM Alive at Southwestern Michigan College

It’s not always easy to keep students engaged in various age groups. With evolving minds, kids and young adults can become exasperated when learning. Luckily, instructors at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, MI, noticed the problem and solved it when they were introduced to a STEM performance by the Mind Trekkers of Michigan Tech three years ago.

They not only sought a solution to get students more engaged in STEM, but created a club so that the fun didn’t have to end in the classroom. Over the following years, the teachers worked to obtain equipment and supplies in order to re-enact more than 50 demonstrations and activities for local elementary schools. They performed at different events at SMC, as well, such as the Campus Bash, open houses and SMC’s 50th Birthday Celebration, and even assisted the Mind Trekkers during a Science festival at Gull Lake schools.

In need of a STEM lab, Andrew Dohm, an educator and STEM Club instructor at SMC, applied for a grant through The Meemic Foundation. Andrew planned to give students the opportunity to take STEM to the next level on and off campus.

The shows were a great way to allow the kids to see how fun and exciting science can be, and he realized the impact on the students and the need to foster this enthusiasm.

“My most memorable experience was the very first road show we put on at Eagle Lake Elementary in Edwardsburg, MI,” he said. “I pulled together a hand full of students, a couple of faculty and a dozen activities, and executed a wonderful experience for over 100 second- and third-graders.  Both our students and theirs were excited and inspired by the experience.  It confirmed to me that we could not only replicate what the Mind Trekkers do, but there was a definite need for us to continue with this initiative.” 

Upon receiving the grant, Andrew acquired new equipment, such as an air compressor to use for water rocket demonstrations and parallax robotics to use for instruction in microprocessor labs. The list of activities has also grown to over 70 demonstrations. Some of the favorites: Burning Money, Can Implosion, Insta-Snow, Invisible Fire Extinguisher and Potato Launcher.

The response was rewarding: “The students’ response to what we do is always overwhelming.  To see their eyes light up with excitement confirms to me that we are doing the right thing.  To my surprise, age doesn’t matter.  Adults and college aged students get equally excited as second- and third-graders do,” Andrew said.

With a great year of STEM involvement, the club’s impact has touched many. Students not only engage in the road show activities, but they also meet after school, in the lab, to fulfil their thirst for STEM.

"While I was working my station, I just took a minute to look around and see all of the smiles on the little kids’ faces. It was at that point I realized I wasn’t doing this for a couple words on a resume. It was those smiling faces, the bulging eyes when they couldn’t believe what they saw, or the screams when they were scared from the imploding cans that made me realize we were doing something great for the community,” said Nick Barber, a member of the STEM club.

Now, elementary teachers have expressed interest in giving their students the opportunity to come to SMC’s STEM Club to practice activities, and plans have been set to visit over 50 elementary students In January.

With the help of a grant, SMC’s STEM Club has taken fun to a new level of excitement and learning.