South Hosts Middle School Students for STEM Conference
Posted on November 3, 2023
The University of South Alabama partnered with the Society of American Military Engineers and the American Association of University Women last month to host more than 150 middle school students for a conference titled “GEMS: Go Explore Math and Science!”
“We had students from Mobile, Baldwin County and Mississippi come to participate in various hands-on activities ranging from extracting DNA, launching straw rockets and testing the ripeness of fruit,” said Dr. Sinéad Ní Chadhain, an associate professor in the Department of Biology who helped organize the event.
The conference featured several keynote speeches, including remarks about local opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) from Angela Nocera, a South graduate who serves as the annual conference’s director, and a keynote address by Dr. Lynn Batten, who serves as director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology and associate professor of pediatrics at USA Health.
“The GEMS program opens doors and broadens students’ views of STEM,” Ní Chadhain said. “Many students and parents think only of medicine or engineering when they think of STEM, but we had workshops in anthropology, architecture and agricultural sciences.”
The conference also provided opportunities for parents to learn about the importance of STEM. Parents attended workshops with local and state leaders, including representatives from the City of Mobile Parks and Recreation Department, South’s dual enrollment program (which offers courses that earn both high school and college credit), the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, and many more.
“The parent information sessions highlighted various pathways to STEM careers,” Ní Chadhain said. “It is important for parents to be informed on key topics, such as dual enrollment opportunities and career prep programs, so they have the tools to aid young STEM students on their journey toward college and beyond.”
More than 80 South students volunteered at the conference.
“Our student volunteers had a chance to meet outside professionals working in their field and explore future career opportunities while also sharing their enthusiasm for STEM with our middle school participants,” Ní Chadhain said.
Opportunities like this conference help broaden the hope that students will become invested in learning STEM. According to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in STEM will grow at a 10.8 percent rate between 2022 and 2032.
“This conference also establishes a relationship with South that hopefully will lead some of these students to become future Jags,” Ní Chadhain said.
Event sponsors were the Poarch Band of Creek Indians; the Society of American Military Engineers Mobile Post; FMC Corporation: An Agricultural Sciences Company; Tetra Tech consulting and engineering firm; Outokumpu sustainable stainless steel producers; Pond architecture, engineering, planning and construction consultants; Southern Earth Sciences: Geotechnical, Environmental, Materials Testing; Terracon consulting engineers and scientists; Thompson Engineering; Chevron Pascagoula; and JADE Consulting development engineers.
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