STEM Academy

By: Marina Brazeal Practicum Contributor

Sigma Delta Omega sorority members work to engage K-12 students with STEM studies.

Oregon State University students and staff are engaging with young adults throughout the Corvallis community through OSU’s STEM Academy. The academy’s goal is to engage with underrepresented minority K-12 students.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields are lacking involvement, according to the STEM directors. Because of this, STEM Academy is trying to make a change.

“Women and minority groups are heavily underrepresented in STEM fields,” Cathy Law, director of STEM Academy, said. “Our mission statement is to engage with youth K-12 to get them to participate in these fields.” 

STEM Academy was originally called the Saturday Academy, and began about 25 years ago, according to Law. However, when the group stopped meeting on Saturdays, the name seemed a little pointless. 

The Academy is a pre-college program that engages with Corvallis youth through summer camps, in-school outreach and single workshops to help each student discover the scientist within them, according to Law. The academy is primarily involved with students and faculty at Garfield Elementary. 

According to Law, there has been an increase in student interaction—especially in young women—with STEM fields since they began reaching out to schools in the community. The STEM Academy has been involved with Garfield Elementary for about six years. The academy is beginning to become more involved with Linus Pauling Middle School as well, Law added.

“It has become a part of our school’s culture,” Savannah Battro, a second-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary, said. “Teaching students to use technology as a tool and interact with it appropriately at a young age is extremely important.”  

According to Battro, there has been an increase in minority involvement in STEM fields since the program began. This includes female students, language learners and Latino students. 

“Students are extremely excited about it and it often serves as a ‘hook’ for some of our most challenging students,” Battro said.

According to Law, pre-college programs like STEM Academy are important to the science community here at OSU because of these effects. 

“The culture is getting better, but there is still plenty of room for improvement,” Law said. 

STEM Academy has a club designated to engage with young women specifically. AWSEM club (Advocate for Women in Science, Engineering and Math) is a club held at OSU to help girls gain an interest in pursuing a career in one of the STEM fields. 

Of all the members of Sigma Delta Omega, one of the sororities at OSU, about 70 are involved in this program, according to Aryn Thomas, president of Sigma Delta Omega. Through STEM Academy, these students have the opportunity to go to schools in the Corvallis community and engage with the students one-on-one.

“When I was growing up, I wish I had a program like STEM Academy to support me and my future goals,” Thomas said. 

Thomas works mostly with middle school girls and mentors them by conducting experiments with them a few hours a week. 

“Women currently make up about one-half of the college-educated workforce in the United States, but only 29 percent of the science and engineering fields,” Thomas said.

According to Law, with much work still to be done, OSU faculty is gearing up to begin advertising upcoming in November for the AWSEM club. The Academy is always hiring students and faculty to help with mentoring programs.

“Programs like these are self-funded, so it is great when people volunteer or donate to the scholarship funds,” Law said.

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