Science expo boosts STEM insights

Aidan Reilly/ Mining Gazette Mind Trekker volunteers brew a fresh batch of liquid nitrogen ice cream before a crowd of middle and high school students eager to try the concoction.

HOUGHTON – The OneUP Tour’s Copper Trail Festival presented by MTU’s Center for Educational Out- reach and student organization Mind Trekkers brought together over 600 middle school and high school students to experience a Cirque de Soleil of science last Tuesday.

Tables lined the walls of the Varsity Gym in the Student Development Center. At each booth, volunteers engaged students with a hands-on ex- perience or information on scientific methods and discovery.

Associate Director of MTU’s Center for Educational Outreach Jannah Tumey oversees the Mind Trekkers program and expressed the impor-

tance of this experiential learning ap- proach.

“Mind Trekkers is special because students are learning through doing. By skewering a balloon without popping it, or being inside of a giant bubble, or playing a piano made of bananas, students are able to discover firsthand the power of science through experimentation.”

Aidan Reilly/Mining Gazette Ben Wieman, a third year mathematics student at MTU demonstrates the fire tornado.

Melody Gonzalez and Jackie Bugielski, both eighth-graders at Houghton were busy practicing their aim with the vortex cannons. A cardboard box that released a plume of air when smacked on opposing sides. Ten feet away, the plume knocked over a pyramid of plastic cups.

“All of these are open source ex- periments,” Jim Desrochers, MTU’s Director of Advancement, explained.

Teachers can go to the Mind Trekkers webpage: mtu.edu/mindtrekkers to find material lists and instructions to allow for a seamless transition from field trip to classroom.

The Mind Trekkers are well known for their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming to students of all ages and are expert in creating this kind of enthusiastic education frenzy that has netted the group a national reputation.

Around 150 graduate and undergraduate students participate in the group annually. Through their efforts, they’ve been recognized and sponsored by companies such as Ford, Dow and 3M.

Aidan Reilly/Mining Gazette Melody Gonzalez (kneeling) and Jackie Bugielski, eighth grad- ers at Houghton Middle School test their aim with a vortex cannon.

Kenzie Garrison, from Ida, Mich., is a fourth-year student in biomedical engineering. She’s been with Mind Trekkers since her first year at MTU and loves the way the program develops kids’ understanding of scientific concepts.

The program “gets kids engaged with science in a fun way before it gets too technical,” she said.

Other members of the community including rep-resentatives of local businesses, Michigan Tech staff and faculty were instrumental in providing support and insight to the students.

Tumey expressed the importance of community building in the mission of the Mind Trekkers and the OneUP tour of which the Copper Trail Festival was the first stop.

“The goal of OneUP Mind Trekkers Tour events is to spark curiosity in students, educate them about in-demand local careers, and show them the educational pathways to those careers. We are bringing together students, educational institutions, and industry together in the same event. For exhibitors, it’s a wonderful opportunity to give back to their communities and celebrate learning. Exhibitors are able to share the story of their organizations and make students aware of the resources and opportunities they offer.”

Employees of Calumet Electronics offered a glimpse into the world of computer chips straight from their fabrication plant. Meanwhile, they worked together with students to build circuits using a snap circuit model construction kit, which one student remarked was the same one he had at home.

Though the majority of exhibits represent the STEM field the primary impact of Mind Trekkers is building a positive connection with learning, Director for Educational Outreach Cassy Tefft De Muñoz explained.

“If you’re curious you can learn about anything,” she said.

Developing that curiosity in a vibrant environment such as the Mind Trekkers event can lower barriers to students and allow for more organic connections between students and material.

The OneUP Copper Trail will make its next stop in Escanaba on January 27 and events in Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie will follow.

Organizations who want to be involved in an up- coming event or sponsor an event can reach out to mindtrekkers@mtu.edu.


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