Over 750 elementary and middle school students spent the summer engineering bioplastics, building model rockets and experimenting with materials to produce common products like Play-Doh at McNeese State University’s STEM Academy.
This 11-week program, which wraps up Aug. 9, seeks to encourage critical thinking and problem solving in students through hands-on activities that help them learn science, technology, engineering and mathematical concepts and skills.
“Our goal is to introduce students to the idea that engineering and other STEM subjects can be interesting and fun,” says STEM Academy coordinator LaDonna McKnight. “Even if some students eventually pursue non-STEM careers, they still have a background in how to develop an idea and create something from it, which is a critical skill in any field.”
McNeese’s STEM Academy is an outgrowth of the university’s Engineering is Elementary (EiE) after school program, introduced to private and public schools in Calcasieu Parish in 2016.
With the planned expansion of EiE to more schools in the parish next year, and demand for early STEM education on the rise across the country, the Academy gives students the skills they’ll need to succeed in the classroom and beyond, adds McKnight.
In one activity, students grades 1-3 are tasked with evaluating how effective different materials and methods are at cleaning up oil spills, a process intended to introduce them to environmental engineering. In another, students learn physics concepts such as balance and force by building and experimenting with beam, arch and suspension bridges.
Outside the classroom activities, students take field trips to learning sites around Lake Charles, including the Calcasieu Parish Library and the Port of Lake Charles.
“Our goal is to broaden horizons and spark ideas,” says McKnight. “But we still want the students to have fun. When a parent tells me that their kids get up in the morning and are excited to come here and learn, I feel like we’ve made a difference.”
This year’s Academy is sponsored by SASOL, Phillips 66, KPLC, Hoffoss Devall Personal Injury Attorneys, Suddenlink by Altice, Kiwanis Club of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish School Board, Lotte Chemical and Coca-Cola.
To find out more about STEM Academy, visit www.mcneese.edu/stemacademy or call 337-562-4137.