JSTI helps rural Nevada teachers transform STEM education at their school

Not all of Nevada’s brightest lights shine in Las Vegas.

Consider Janie Kimble and Melissa Jones, who teach math and science, respectively, at Carlin Combined Schools in the small city of Carlin, population 2,300, in the rural northeast corner of the state, nearly seven hours away from the glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip.

Kimble and Jones have transformed STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education at their school. Together they created a STEM Club, which meets after regular school hours; added an annual event called STEM Fest, where companies from across the state showcase the latest technology for students and parents; and recently launched a robotics team sponsored by innovative automaker Tesla.

“In 2015 Melissa and I kept thinking we’ve got to give students real career experiences to explore from a science and technology perspective, so we started looking for opportunities and found out about the Joint Science and Technology Institute,” Kimble said.

JSTI is a two-week residential program for high school students and teachers that exposes them to scientific research through hands-on projects. JSTI is sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense and managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). Programs are offered in Aberdeen, Md., and Albuquerque, N.M. JSTI Aberdeen also offers a one-week program for middle school students.

Kimble first attended JSTI Aberdeen as a participating teacher in 2015.

“It completely blew my mind,” Kimble said of that first jam-packed JSTI. “The first thing I thought was I would like to see all of my students be able to participate in this. I was almost afraid to go asleep because I was afraid I would miss something.”

For the last four years, Kimble has returned to JSTI Aberdeen as a resident teacher, where she served as both chaperone and educational resource for participating students. In 2019 she was a resident teacher for both programs.

“I get to work with the kids. I’m walking around making sure they get to where they need to be, and I’m just going from group to group, following them and seeing what they’re experiencing,” she said. “I’m taking lots of pictures and keeping a mental note and a notebook of things that I can take back to my class even though I’m not participating in the activities. I feel like it’s a win-win for me and my students even though they are not here.”

Kimble shares with Jones what she learns during every JSTI experience, which gets them both excited to provide additional opportunities for their students.

“I see what JSTI has done for our school and with Melissa and I, and where we started and where we have come to,” Kimble said. “This last year we were a Governor Designated STEM School,” which means Carlin Combined Schools meets the highest standards of STEM instruction and is a model for schools across Nevada.

Their annual STEM Fest last year included an interactive robot from the Nevada Department of Transportation, a virtual reality exhibit where students could experience what it’s like to go into a mine, and a 3-D movie shown under a dome.

“We have the event in February and last year it was snowing and still people just kept coming,” Jones said. “The kids had fun, the parents had a good time and our partner businesses loved it. It was an awesome event.”

Kimble and Jones both attribute their success to teamwork. When they learned that Tesla and the state of Nevada offered a grant program to start robotics teams, they put their heads together to come up with a plan, then Jones sent in an application.

“Janie and I are really great about working together and putting in for lots of different opportunities,” Jones said. “So really quickly, probably five minutes or less, I was able to fill out the application. I explained who we are, and how we would use the grant money. Within 24 hours we had a response back saying Tesla wanted to help us start a high school robotics team.”

Last year was their rookie season and they started more than two months later than all of the other teams in the state, but Jones said her students buckled down and had a robot ready to go by their first meet.

“They set it on the mat and the autonomous programming started. [The robot] goes over and pushes the mineral into the depot like he’s supposed to, and the smile on those kids’ faces was just, it was surreal almost. It made all of the hard work worth it.”

Throughout the season students continued to work on and add to their robot, making the design more complex and better able to meet the challenges they faced.

“By the time we hit the state championships, we were a real contender on the mat,” Jones said. “I think the students seeing that even though they come from this very small school, they can compete with very large schools on this high academic, critical-thinking robotics level.”

To learn more about the Joint Science and Technology Institute, visit orise.orau.gov/jsti/.