More than 2,000 children in grades K-12 converged at the University of Central Florida on Friday to see for themselves how science is a part of everything we do from playing football on Super Bowl Sunday to solving crimes.
“This is awesome. I got to see a sand flea’s heart rate under a microscope. Science is cool,” said Valeria Rojas, a fifth-grader at Avalon Elementary School in Orlando talking about her favorite activity at UCF’s Stem Day.
UCF faculty from the College of Sciences and the College of Engineering and Computer Science began organizing the event last year through the new Center for Initiatives in STEM (iSTEM). More colleges joined the effort and the result was more than 100 hands-on activities for students including an activity that explores the physics behind football and another that shows how crime-scene investigation techniques are rooted in chemistry.
“This is all about making Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics real for students so they can see how exciting it is and why it matters,” said Melissa Dagley, executive director of iSTEM. “If they can see all the options early, then they can continue to work hard in school and have the opportunity to pursue these areas in college and perhaps one day solve some of our most pressing problems in the world.”
National Science Foundation assistant director Joan Ferrini-Mundy and Sen. Bill Nelson also spent part of the day at UCF. The NSF is the only government agency in the nation charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation and STEM education. Ferrini-Mundy spent part of the morning observing the kid-friendly activities and the afternoon speaking to some UCF researchers working on NSF-funded projects.
Many of the teachers who brought their students from Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools said they wished there were more of these opportunities for Central Florida students.
“I think this is a wonderful event,” said Gabrielle Cautero, a fifth-grade teacher at Aloma Elementary School. “It helps our students see college as a real possibility and makes science real, something they can aspire to do.”
Activities ran from at 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with multiple sessions throughout campus. Participants will also have a chance to listen to speakers, take tours and view exhibits that blend science and art and showcase some unique engineering feats.
Scott Teal, one of UCF’s football players, said he enjoyed showing students how science and sports are related during “The Physics Behind Football” activity. Teal, is earning his degree in industrial engineering and expects to graduate in May.
During the session, physics lecturer Jeff Bindell explained the science behind football aerodynamics, while players threw footballs of varying sizes, basketballs and soccer balls.
Teammate Rodrigo Quirarte, also an industrial engineering major, said he plans on a career that blends the analytical skills of engineering and business and his passion for sports. He said STEM Day was a creative way to engage young students in science by using something fun they can relate to, such as football.
Other popular sessions included the Crime Scene Tent and exhibit areas where students got to check out footprints, black lights and other investigative techniques. The Engineering I atrium drew students trying out everything from a flight simulator to a prototype of a lunar robot built by UCF students for an upcoming NASA competition.
UCF students also stopped to check out some of the activities. The crowd favorite for the college students seemed to be the Bed of Nails demonstration. From 10:45 a.m. to 2:05 p.m. a UCF graduate student sandwiched himself between two beds of nails. A cinder block was placed on top and then broken with a sledgehammer, but the student went unharmed because of the laws of math and physics.
Organizers said STEM Day will become an annual tradition at UCF in hopes of encouraging more and more youngsters to continue to study science, technology, engineering and math.