It wasn’t that long ago when young women and minority students who showed the same or even greater potential than their male counterparts in the sciences were either steered away from these disciplines or not even told about them. But that was then.
Across Colorado---and well beyond---the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)---are showing a racial and gender diversity unlike anytime before. Last week Pueblo city schools along with surrounding districts, including those in Custer and Fremont Counties, held the 17th annual District and Southern Colorado Regional STEM Fair competition.
While representation still has a way to go before gender and racial parity is achieved in these highly disciplined fields, things are changing. Morgan Kempf, Pueblo District 60 STEM and science specialist says the credit for growing the field goes to teachers. And most of that credit goes to female teachers. “They look to their teachers who have encouraged them to participate,” she said.
The competition at the STEM Fair was both keen and imaginative. One of the winning entrants, said Kempf, came from the Roncalli STEM students. “They created a hover board,” she said, ala “Back to the Future.” The students did it using nothing more than items you’d find around the house or classroom, including a chair. A group of young girls, using code and robotics, devised a ‘pooper scooper’ that “would detect and pick up,” well, you know.
The competition, held at the CSU-Pueblo campus, had 250 students ranging from grades three to 12. The winners will go on to the statewide competition which will be held in April on the CSU campus in Fort Collins.
Klempf, whose degree is in the sciences---biology and chemistry---has been involved in the District 60 STEM program for the past six years. “I came on board when the district had a magnate school grant,” she said. It’s grown significantly since then with participation in all the district’s schools. Still, getting non-traditional students into STEM requires not just the right pitch but also a lot of encouragement.
Growth in the STEM Fair has also been as a result of corporate involvement. Some of the names posted across CSU-Pueblo’s Occhiato Student Center included Black Hills Energy, Transportation Technology Center, Inc., Bechtel and the CSU Extension office. The Fair, said Kempf, would look significantly different without local corporate involvement. Beside providing funds for the Fair, the companies also provide their own scientists and technicians to work with the students as mentors. Students, along with their teachers, also get an opportunity to have on-site visits with the companies.
Growth in STEM programs in Pueblo and Colorado has been dramatic. Hundreds of students from the state’s largest school districts to its tiniest, will gather on the Fort Collins campus in April. Exposing young minds to college campuses---in Pueblo and Fort Collins---is a great, yet subtle, way to whet young appetites for things they may not even have imagined.
At the Pueblo STEM event, some of the winners in the competition were awarded scholarship money from CSU-Pueblo.