Sparking STEM dreams

Two college students give a tour of a lab to a group of high school students

For many people, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing something until you see someone like yourself in that role. It’s easier to believe it if you see it.

This gives the Knight Campus community a unique opportunity to work with local students to provide them with a chance to see themselves in a wide variety of lab, academic, and innovation settings. A good example is the group of 25 high school students from the Spark program of Connected Lane County who visited campus on July 13 (with another group slated for Aug. 17).

Spark is a youth program serving Lane County that is designed to offer a safe place to learn, collaborate, and create training opportunities with innovation, education, and hands-on learning opportunities. A key focus of Spark is to help students from historically underrepresented groups see themselves in a variety of educational and vocational settings.

On July 13, Spark students arrived on campus and split into three groups to take a multi-level tour of Knight Campus, including stops in Dalton Lab on the third floor, where students were given commemorative keychains made in the lab; demonstrations in the Fabrication Lab on the basement level; and a Q&A session with Knight Campus faculty and students in the Beetham Family Seminar Room on the first floor.

In each room, students where full of questions ranging from technical specifications of 3D printing to what sort of things can be made in the fabrication lab, to how much the average pay is in STEM fields represented at Knight Campus.

“The same day as the visit, we heard from Spark program leaders telling us the students were excited and very interested in the machines they saw and how they might do that work themselves in the future,” said Jenni Van Wyk, a Knight Campus student recruiter who helped organize the tours. “It was clear by the student’s faces that each stop on the tour made an impact on them and may have helped them start to consider new ideas for a future profession.”

This kind of outreach is common at Knight Campus. Earlier this year students organized a May the 4th Be with You science outreach event at River Road El Camino Del Rio Elementary School, a Spanish-immersion school in the local 4J public school system that was funded by an NSF CAREER awarded to the Hettiaratchi Lab.