High school students to learn about STEM careers at New Kensington workshop

March 02, 2016

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. — High school students will have the chance to discover future employment opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at a “STEM Exploration Workshop” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Penn State New Kensington. The campus is located on State Route 780 in Upper Burrell Township.

The STEM event provides an opportunity for secondary-school students from three counties — Armstrong, Butler and Indiana — to hear about careers and what skills will be needed for future workforces from local employers. The focus is on safety in science. Representatives from the emergency response cleanup, waste treatment, wetlands restoration and sustainable resources will give advice and answer questions.

“This program allows Penn State New Kensington an opportunity to reach out to additional counties in order to provide STEM career exploration to high school students,” said Debra Novak, coordinator of STEM programs at the campus.

The hands-on workshop will give students a chance to complete “real world” team projects. The Alle-Kiski Valley and the surrounding areas are home to numerous STEM-related companies, including McCutcheon Enterprises Inc. As a part of the workshop, McCutcheon will provide a tour of its Apollo facilities to participants. Transportation will be provided.

The event is sponsored by the Tri-County Business-Education Partnership, the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, and the New Kensington campus. The cost is free for students from the three counties, which are a part of Penn State New Kensington’s five-county service area. Allegheny and Westmoreland are the other two counties. Lunch will be provided.

To register, call Novak at 724-334-6119 or register online at www.nk.psu.edu/youthprograms. The deadline to register is March 15.

STEM activities
Over the years, Penn State New Kensington has hosted numerous STEM-related activities. The seed was planted in 2010 with the “Women in STEM Symposium.” More than 300 high school females attended the event that featured a panel discussion on career possibilities for women in STEM-related fields.

The panelists extolled the different perspectives that women can bring to these traditionally male-dominated fields. They advised the audience to take advantage of internships at local companies to gain experience in their prospective vocations.

In December, more than 200 seventh- and eighth-graders from four local school districts — Burrell, Franklin Regional, Kiski Area and New Kensington-Arnold — honed their critical thinking and engineering skills at the Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth's third annual “STEM Challenge” by building Rube Goldberg machines. Prior to the competition, students learned about career paths in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields from 30 STEM professionals.

STEM initiatives
STEM is a statewide effort dedicated to preparing Pennsylvania students for global competitiveness through a strategy of enhanced education and career development opportunities. The initiatives are designed to increase the number of students, especially females, minorities and the underrepresented, in the STEM fields.

Novak, who joined the campus community in 2012, coordinates the campus’ three STEM programs — Kids in College, STEM Academy and COMETS. Her responsibilities include increasing the interest of grade-school students in the four core disciplines critical to the development of technological innovations. She develops and manages STEM initiatives by bringing together representatives from the campus, local school districts and regional industries. The initiatives are geared to elementary and secondary students.

Kids in College is a summer program that combines hands-on activities and STEM camps for students in grades one to 12. The STEM-related classes include courses like "Daring Designs," where students draw scale plans for a bedroom or game room using a scientific perspective, and "Rocketry," which is an opportunity for students to build their own model rockets and launch them. Kids in College is sponsored by the Grable Foundation.

“The camp was established to provide students with a fun learning experience, while exposing them to a college campus atmosphere,” Novak said. “Over the past 27 years, we have had nearly 8,000 students participate in the program.”

STEM Academy targets high school students. The program provides dual-enrollment courses that are focused on STEM majors. Students are given options for courses that can be taken at the New Kensington campus.

“The academy provides students with the advantages of earning college credits while in high school and exploring a career path that is STEM-related," said Novak, who teaches English as a second language in the Burrell School District. “It also provides an opportunity for high school teachers to work with campus faculty to develop the talents of college-bound and workforce-bound students whose career interests will require advanced knowledge of STEM areas.”

COMETS (Courses on Math, Engineering, Technology, Science) targets seventh- and eighth-grade girls who have an interest in the STEM fields. Volunteer mentors, drawn from Penn State alumna and friends in STEM-related professions, will share their experiences on career opportunities in their fields. In addition to mentoring, the eight-month program features the Saturday Morning Brunch series, COMETS camp, guest speakers, demonstrations and projects.

“The program combines an online mentoring program with hands-on presentations in a wide range of STEM fields,” said Novak. “The mentors will provide new perspectives on their careers, as well as perspectives on other STEM careers for the girls.”

The campus’ STEM projects complement Novak’s charge to coalesce interdisciplinary teams of grade school teachers and administrators, higher education students and faculty, and industry representatives to determine the best approach to STEM literacy in the region.

“STEM-related growth is expected to expand immensely in the near future for the Alle-Kiski Valley,” Novak said. “Our programs are directed at introducing and supporting the necessary pathways for students in our area districts for success in STEM jobs.”

For more information, contact Novak via email at dsn2@psu.edu

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Bill Woodard

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Last Updated March 03, 2016