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Hancock excited for first science festival

(Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette) Jude Smith (left) and Lynn Heinonen (right) use magnetic wands to levitate thin metal rings. Students also had the opportunity to learn about lasers, mirrors, and other STEM topics hands-on.

HANCOCK — The first Copper Country Science and Engineering Festival took place at the Hancock Central High School Wednesday. The event featured 60 demonstrations and activities for fourth through seventh grade students from Hancock, Houghton, Chassell, Lake Linden-Hubbell, Calumet, and Dollar Bay-Tamarack City schools. The demonstrations and activities were run by Michigan Technological University students from eight student organizations, as well as by high school student volunteers from Lake Linden and Hancock High Schools.

“This has been in preparation for about two months now, which is much quicker than most of our events come together. Hancock was so excited to have us here and so adaptable,” said Mind Trekkers coordinator Jannah Brandt.

The Mind Trekkers are a STEM-based outreach group at Michigan Tech but most of their events are scattered around the country.

“Usually we don’t get to do events for the local schools, so we’re excited to be here,” she said.

Lake Linden student volunteers came from the high school’s Mind Trekkers after school program, while Hancock volunteers came from the Interact program. Interact is a high school version of Rotary International that has been active at Hancock since 2013. Michigan Tech student volunteers were made aware of the event through postings in dining halls and common areas around campus, according to Noelle Milam and Austin Oehring, student volunteers from Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

(Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette) Hancock high school volunteer Kaitelyn Barret (Left) helps Hancock seventh graders Jude Smith (center) and Ned Larson (right) learn science hands on at one of 60 activities made available to area students at the first Copper Country Science and Engineering Festival, which took place at Hancock Central High School on Wednesday.

“We’re just showing them different mathematical equations, like the Fibonacci Sequence,” said Milam. “The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers attained by adding the two previous numbers, so 0,1,1,2,3,5,8. It regularly shows up in nature.”

Milam and Oehring showed students how the Fibonacci sequence appears in human proportion, the arrangement of petals on flowers, and even the patches on pineapples. They also told students about “fractals” – complex equations that form geometric shapes when graphed. Snowflakes are an accessible example. Activities at other stations included making ice cream, using crystals to line up beams of light, and learning about mirrors that cast reflections upside down.

Students from the different area schools were brought to the Hancock gym and common area for a morning session and an afternoon session. In between, lunch was provided to the volunteers.

“We can say that (the students) are getting time off of class, but in reality they’re not,” said Hancock Middle School principal Steve Aho. “They’re being engaged and they’re learning … These are the kind of experiences that we want to provide to our students.”

The event was largely coordinated by Dr. Steve Patchin. The current Hancock Superintendent previously worked at MTU where he was instrumental in forming the Mind Trekkers.

“It’s always fun to see something that you created blossom,” said Patchin. “Just to see (Mind Trekkers) coming from where it started and having it come to our students has been pretty incredible.”

Calling the event “priceless,” Patchin said that this kind of outreach is increasingly important for encouraging today’s youth. He also expressed his gratitude to MTU, both the professors and the student community, for their contributions to making the event possible.

“Gen. Z, the generation of kids that are coming through the system right now, these kids are very conscious of what they want to be when they grow up. Already, in middle school, they’re thinking about their careers,” said Patchin. “They’ve seen the choices made by the generations before them and the consequences, like all of the debt, and they want to make sure that they’re making the right choices for their future. Exposing students to these college kids that are doing these things and making these decisions allows the kids to start answering these questions for themselves.”

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