So what is it like to spend part of the summer learning about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with other students and teachers from around the world? Kam Santos-Diaz, a 2014 Joint Science and Technology Institute (JSTI) alumnus, interviewed high school and middle school students during the 2018 JSTI program, which exposes students to scientific research through hands-on projects, enables students to work with real-world scientists, and increase their awareness of career opportunities in related fields.
Read about their day-to-day activities as they worked with their peers to develop a greater appreciation for STEM:
The Joint Science and Technology Institute (JSTI) kicked off its 6th annual program on July 21, 2018. JSTI is a two week residential internship program that provides students the opportunity to conduct Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) research under the under the mentorship of Department of Defense Scientists and STEM experts. Sixty high school students and 12 participant teachers braved the stormy weather into the Comfort Inn and Suites hotel based in Aberdeen, Maryland, where they will call “home” for the next two weeks. The students and teachers soon find out that participants travelled from all over the world to attend JSTI, ranging from 5 miles away in Maryland to over 6,000 miles away in Japan.
The first day of JSTI has always been and always will be an animated day for all participants and staff involved. The schedule includes check-in, survey taking, dinner, and a welcome from the program manager, Mr. Dale Taylor, or simply, Dale as he prefers to be called.
The spirit of JSTI is conveyed through Dale’s remarks. He spoke about the development of STEM research over time and its relation to the participants sitting in that very room. He emphasized the importance of STEM for the younger generations to ensure the future defense of the nation as well a STEM literate population. Dale stated JSTI is dedicated to fueling a passion for STEM in young minds and over the next two weeks, the JSTI staff and mentors hope to do just that.
The first full day of JSTI is dedicated to making connections with the students,
teachers, and staff. On Sunday, July 22, the JSTI group travelled from the hotel to the High Point Ropes Course located in Montgomery County, MD. At the High Point Ropes Course, the participants were divided into randomly assigned groups to complete team-bonding exercises. The purpose of this activity is to allow the participants to become familiar and trustworthy of one another, since they will be spending the next two weeks together.
The participants felt that the High Point Ropes Course activity helped them grow as a person. Jameshia Howard, a member of the Videography group, said the event helped her grow as a person. She states, “The ropes course made me feel better about myself and helped me meet other people. I was nervous to do the course, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I am so happy I went and completed it.” The ropes course activity is an excellent way to feel more confident in oneself and in other people. Another student in the Videography group, Talishka Viera, felt that the High Point Ropes Course is a great beginning to JSTI. When asked if she felt the activity is important to JSTI, she answered, “The ropes course is important because I didn’t know anybody at JSTI. At the ropes courseI was able to meet the other students and become friends with them.” Because of the strong response to the ropes course, it can be concluded that the activity is a vital piece to JSTI.
Monday, July 23rd marks the first day in research groups for the participants at JSTI. In the morning, the participants travelled to Harford Community College (HCC) to attend a welcome event hosted by Colonel Quinn of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). At the welcome event, Colonel Quinn relates his STEM experience to the students and teachers and conducts a “question and answer” session, in which the participants can ask him various questions related to the workforce, the Department of Defense (DOD), and STEM.
Once the welcome event finished, the students and teachers broke up into their assigned research groups, met their mentors, and went to the research sites. In class, the participants were given in depth information about their research project. The research groups are Videography, Robotics, Microbiomes, Environmental Water Quality, Rapid Prototyping & Military Packaging, 3D Printing, and Mathematics and Modeling Mania.
Later in the day, Dr. Ronald Hann, the Director of the Chemical and Biological Technologies Department at DTRA, visited the various research groups and spoke to students about STEM and JSTI. The students felt honored to meet the director and sponsor of JSTI. Amanda Newell, a member of the Videography group, exclaims, “I was so excited to meet Dr. Hann. Without him, JSTI probably wouldn’t be possible. I asked Dr. Hann why he sponsors JSTI and he said that he wants to introduce as many kids to STEM as he can and that’s very important.” Allowing the students and teachers to meet the people who make JSTI happen is essential to the program. The participants can make connections with the sponsors and staff, which can help shape their future.
Dale Taylor, program manager, shares an important message with the participants at JSTI: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” As the program manager, Dale views his position as giving back to students through furthering their education. All he expects in return is for the students to pass on their knowledge to others just as he does. This passing of knowledge is ensured by having the JSTI students participate in mentoring young children at an Outreach program through various STEM activities at the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County.
At the Boys and Girls Club, the 60 students are divided into seven different groups to teach over 100 children about STEM. The groups are Foam Gnomes, Probots, Toothbrush Racers, Drones, GoPros, Little Bits, and Soda-Straw Rockets. These groups are specifically designed to show the “fun” aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to elementary school children in hopes that the activities might encourage those children to pursue a STEM career path later in life.
Luc Tamez, a student in the Robotics group, believes that the Outreach program is an excellent way to pass on knowledge of STEM to young children and help optimize the JSTI participants’ teaching skills as well. He says, “The Outreach program in general was very enlightening. It made us be better leaders because we had to teach the kids about straw rockets in such a short period of time.” In regards to the children, Tamez explains, “I think the kids loved it. They enjoyed engineering their own rockets and having a competition with each other.” Based on the point-of-view of Tamez and the other students, the Outreach program was a success. The JSTI students and the children of the Boys and Girls Club both learned from each other. The children learned that science, technology, engineering, and math can be fun, and the students learned how to be better leaders in life.
As the first weekend of JSTI rolls around, the students prepare for a day off of research and a day full of exploration. On Saturday, July 28, 2018, the JSTI participants travelled to Washington, D.C. to tour the National Zoo, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum. The D.C. trip allows the students and staff to relax, unwind, and have fun with no stress from the working environment. It is evident that the students enjoyed the trip by the way they slept on the bus ride home, however, for the staff, it was another story.
Jim Taylor, better known as “Jimmy Jam, The Teachin’ Man” to students, described the D.C. trip as “one of the true highlights” of his time at JSTI. In regards to the National Air and Space Museum, Jim states “I feel like being in such close proximity to these discoveries and technological advances adds a tangible aspect to the concepts that the students may have only heard about in class and watched in documentaries.” Jim felt that the museum and the D.C. trip in general was a beautiful way to relate history and STEM back to the lives of the students and participants.
Another member of the staff, Karen Brummett, also had a great day off of work. She visited the Natural History Museum and states, “The museum was filled with STEM. Hopefully, it has broadened the students’ horizons and encouraged them to pursue a STEM career.” When asked how the D.C. trip influenced her experience here at JSTI, Karen replied, “It makes me want to make future plans to bring my daughter here to show her D.C. and the museums and monuments and hopefully introduce her into a STEM field.”
Overall, the D.C. trip impacts the lives of the whole JSTI members and even their families. The trip gets both students and staff excited about real world STEM applications and creates great memories for all involved.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 is a very important day for the staff, students, and teachers here at JSTI. It is “V.I.P. Day.” Dale Taylor, program manager of JSTI, explains, “The purpose of V.I.P. Day is to show stakeholders of JSTI how much of an impact STEM is having on all the participants - the middle school students, the high school students, and the participant teachers - and to show participants how much we are interested in STEM, not just DOD, but government labs, DOE labs and private industry in academia.” V.I.P. Day allows the participants of JSTI to interact with the people who make JSTI possible. The stakeholders go around to each research group to see what the groups are studying and the participants are able to talk to the stakeholders about their experience in life and in STEM careers.
The true V.I.P.s of V.I.P. Day are not the stakeholders, however, they are the participants. The participants “show off” their newly gained knowledge and convince the stakeholders that JSTI is a program worthy of all honors and respect possible. The answer of who the V.I.P.s are though does get lost in translation, because the students feel that the people visiting the rooms are the V.I.P.s. Quinn Freeman, a student in the Water Quality research group, felt a little nervous yet confident in meeting the visitors. She states, “V.I.P. day was exciting because I got to talk to the people who made this program possible. I was able to talk to some of the V.I.P.s and get insight on college and real life STEM careers. It was very helpful to me.” V.I.P. day is special to the participants because they get a chance to see what their future might hold as well.
Not every year of JSTI has hosted V.I.P. Day due to difficulties in scheduling the visitors, but when V.I.P. Day does happen, it is a truly remarkable time.
As the final day of JSTI rolls in, the students, participant teachers, and staff scramble to make sure everything is perfect for the presentations. The presentations are executed by the middle school groups, the high school groups, and the participant teachers. Dale Taylor, the program manager, is in charge of MCing the event. This year’s keynote speakers are Sierra Stoddard-Anderson, an alum from 2014, and Alayiah Ashmore, an alum from 2015.
At the Water’s Edge Event Center, where the final program takes place, families of the participants, the participants, and the directors and staff from ORAU and DTRA all come together to celebrate the achievement of knowledge and completing JSTI 2018. The final program is a success and some of the most memorable moments are noted below:
- STEM is officially marked as “cool” when William J. Vosburg, Ed.D., director of Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), states, “STEM is cool.”
- The high school Robotics research group holds a final competition between the blue and purple robots the students built. The blue team takes the win!
- The high school Microbiomes research group sang a parody of the song “We Are Family” during their presentation. Their lyrics are, “We have colonies! My petri dish, gel, and my beads. We have colonies! Everybody pipette with me!”
- The middle school Raspberry Pi research group sold the entire audience on the Raspberry Pi with their cute yet informative presentation, and their slogan, “The best buy is the Raspberry Pi!”
- Keynote speaker Sierra Stoddard-Anderson brought program manager Dale Taylor to tears after her speech. He followed by saying, “This is why I love what I do and I love JSTI.” The entire audience could see the impact of JSTI on the alum and the manager.
- After the presentations were over, the students mingled with families and guests of ORISE, ORAU, and DTRA. They also said their final goodbyes, which was a very bittersweet moment for all.