Shepherd to offer annual Seeding Your Future Conference, monthly STEM workshops
Shepherd University is once again offering free science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) activities for students in grades 5-12. Middle school-age girls can experience hands-on STEM activities during the third annual Seeding Your Future Conference on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., and students in grades 8-12 can take part in monthly STEM workshops.
The Seeding Your Future Conference will offer popular activities from previous years that focus on topics like big data, how stream pollution affects water bugs, and colorful chemistry. New offerings will include learning to read tree rings, building and coding binary bracelets and smart pendants that light up, and creating electric play dough sculptures.
Dr. Jordan Mader, assistant professor of chemistry and Dr. Sytil Murphy, assistant professor of physics, created Seeding Your Future for middle school girls because research shows that those are the years the students become discouraged in STEM fields.
“They may be told they can’t do it, or they feel they’re not very good at it, or engineering is for boys,” Mader said. “There have been a number of different phrases used to discourage girls from going into something they may feel passionate about. Our goal is to say ‘yes, you can do this and see how cool it is’ to give them confidence and to give them a very positive experience.”
The deadline to sign up for the one-day conference is Oct. 10. Eighth grade girls who attend the Seeding Your Future Conference can now transition into the monthly workshop series for high school-age students that will run September through April. Once a month students in grades 8-12 will be able to come to Shepherd for a two-hour workshop that focuses on a single topic.
“It’s a little more in-depth because you have two hours and the high school students have more science experience. You can spend a little more time on the background information and they get a slightly longer hands-on period,” Mader said.
The monthly workshops topics will include studying beneficial microbiology where students will make bread and cheese and 3D printing. Murphy said the goal of the workshops is to help students maintain their interest in STEM topics and give them experiences outside their high school classrooms.
“We have equipment here at Shepherd that a typical high school classroom wouldn’t have,” Murphy said. “They can come and see what they can do with it.”
“Last year I did one on testing for dangerous drugs like cocaine on money,” Mader said. “So they got to use some of the instruments that you see on TV shows like NCIS. With the gas chromatography mass spectrometer, they got to physically inject their samples, run them and interpret their results. That’s not something a high school’s going to have because it’s a $100,000 instrument.”
Students attending the monthly workshops can choose which to attend based on their interests. Murphy and Mader encourage children who are home schooled to participate. For more information and to register for the conference and workshops, visit www.seedingyourfuture.weebly.com/.