For three days each week this summer and throughout the 2017-2018 academic school year, 20 Springfield area high school students are stepping onto the campus of Springfield Technical Community College and getting a taste of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The students recently toured the STCC Data Center where the college’s servers are housed. They participated in workshops with Brian Candido, professor and chair of STCC’s Computer Information Technologies program, and learned about cyber security. They took part in activities around password hacking, various types of computer viruses and protecting personal identification information.
“I enjoy learning about the different topics we’re going to be doing each week,” said Sophia Abril, 16, of Springfield, one of the students participating in the Urban League of Springfield’s program, which is called The Big Three STEM Pipeline Initiative.
The Urban League is working with HSI STEM at STCC, the University of Massachusetts, The Springfield School Department, Smith College, Bay Path University, Becker College, Baystate Medical Center, the MassMutual Financial Group and more on the initiative. The students participating in this program come from schools in both the Springfield, Mass., and Northern Connecticut areas.
As a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), STCC last year received a federal grant to support Hispanic and low-income students in STEM fields of study. The Big Three STEM Pipeline Initiative received grants from both the MassMutual Financial Group and the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America to fund its program.
The Urban League’s Big Three STEM Pipeline program focuses on raising awareness about STEM academic programs and career paths in computer game science, cyber security and health (the Big Three STEM).
“All three of these areas are fast-paced and growing fields that current high school students will be entering upon graduation from college in the upcoming years, so why not begin to start preparing them now?” said Dinah Moore, project director for the Big 3 STEM Pipeline Initiative.
Felicia D. Griffin-Fennell, HSI STEM activity director, praised the program as a fun and interesting way to expose young people to the STEM fields and careers connected to the subjects.
For example, she said the high schoolers will learn about programs such as laser electro-optics technology and biotechnology with STCC faculty and students. They may never have heard about these programs, but might discover these majors could provide them with skills to land good jobs.
“It’s an opportunity for us to expand their understanding and to break a few myths that they might have,” she said. “We hope to get them thinking about possible avenues that they might never consider.”
Free of charge to the students, the program is held three days each week through Aug. 16 at STCC, but will continue to run during the 2017-2018 academic school year by offering tutoring, additional field trips and workshop activities in the three targeted STEM fields.
Examples of summer field trips and activities have included patient care workshops where the students took turns working with patient simulators and using stethoscopes and various other pieces of UMass equipment and technology, tours of the ambulances at American Medical Response, CPR workshops, password hacking activities and game board creations to learn the thought process behind computer game animation and design.
Moore said the program not only exposes students to the STEM fields, but helps them start preparing for college and careers.
“They will hear about financial aid options for college and take part in mock job interview sessions,” she said.
One element of the program is to help the students understand the importance of “soft skills” – working with others, doing presentations, and learning how to effectively communicate.
While not every student may pursue a STEM career, Moore said, “The goal of the program is to offer them the hands-on and application-based experience and exposure to help them make an informed decision when that time comes.”
The Urban League of Springfield has been sending high school students to STCC during the school year since 2014. This year marks the first summer program.