ECU hosts 5th annual High School STEM Day

East Carolina University welcomed 300 high school juniors to campus Friday, April 8, for hands-on learning in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as part of the 5th annual High School STEM Day. Attendance included 16 high schools from nine counties across eastern North Carolina.

“We didn’t have this at my high school,” said Simon Curtis, a teacher at D.H. Conley High School in Greenville who brought 20 students interested in health sciences, math and science to STEM Day. “If I went through a program like this, I would have been better prepared in college.”

“Even from the opening session, you get excited about what ECU has to offer,” said Kelly Burden, social worker at John T. Hoggard High School. “There are so many different avenues in STEM.”

Jim Figliolia of Mosley Performance Learning Center, who participated in STEM Day as a chaperone to a group of about 40 high school students from the Wilmington area, said, “This event opens their eyes to things they didn’t know existed.”

Twenty students from each area high school were divided into two groups. An ECU student chaperone majoring in a STEM field, who could discuss their experiences, led each group of high school students around campus.

“They play an important role in the day, as they are with the students from the time they arrive until the time they leave,” said Margaret Turner, director of marketing and outreach for the College of Engineering and Technology and STEM Day event organizer.

Throughout the morning, high school students traveled to different classrooms and labs around campus and participated in three out of 15 possible hands-on sessions directed by current ECU faculty and students. Sessions were offered in atmospheric science, biology, chemistry, computer science, construction management, engineering, geography, geological sciences, mathematics, math education, physics and technology systems.

“It’s great to get to interact with the next generation of students,” said ECU physics senior Jonathan Gill, who helped present one of the hands-on physics sessions. “Basic science and research are fundamental to our society.”

“I believe STEM is the basis of what we can know as humans, and if we can master that, we can master anything in our chosen professions,” said first-time session leader Jonathan Molai, an ECU freshman double majoring in biology and philosophy.

College of Education students helped facilitate the math education session during STEM Day. Participants worked to solve geometry problems using software called Geometer Sketch Pad. At the end of the session, the education students shared why they decided to pursue a career in high school math education.

“I decided to become a high school math teacher because I love helping people and it’s neat to see (the students) becoming an adult,” said Rebecca Pool, an ECU junior math education major. “I also love math; you learn something new everyday teaching math.”

Pine Forest High School student and STEM Day participant, Rebecca, who is considering studying forensics when she attends college, said this is a good experience. During one of the biology sessions, she was able to test phosphates in a water sample and she learned about GIS technologies and mapping in the geography session led by Dr. Thad Wasklewicz.

STEM Day participant and Hoggard High School junior Christian is interested in majoring in technology, specifically networking, when he attends college. He said the hands-on sessions provide a good example of what one can do in their career.

High School STEM Day is an important part of the STEM initiative at ECU and helps to promote the variety of opportunities available for students, according to organizers. The annual event, co-sponsored by ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and the College of Engineering and Technology, is free to attendees and includes lunch, campus tours from the Office of Admissions and goodie bags with items and informational materials donated from various departments across campus.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of STEM education for our region and for our country at this critical time. We know that STEM disciplines provide solutions to many of society’s most pressing challenges, and high-paid, high-skills job opportunities are available to graduates who want to make a real difference,” said William M. Downs, dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m so proud that ECU is a leader in promoting STEM education, and High School STEM Day provides yet another indicator of our commitment to preparing North Carolina’s youth for tomorrow.”

-Margaret Turner contributed to this story.

Kyle Reitzel showed students a pick and place robot.

Kyle Reitzel showed students a pick and place robot.