STEM fields come to life for ELL, migrant students at Rice

Twenty-eight students in HISD’s English Language Learner and migrant programs spent two weeks of their summer participating in hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities at the STEM Leadership and Design Fabrication Academy at Rice University.

The students, who attend Austin, Chávez, Davis, Furr, Kashmere, Liberty, Lee, Sam Houston, Sharpstown, and Waltrip high schools, got a taste of what careers in a STEM-related field could be like.

“The students learned about circuits and how to use Computer Aided Design and modify computer coding,” said Carolyn Nichol, director of the Rice Office of STEM Engagement. “These tools are fundamental for many jobs, ranging from electricians to electrical engineers, from technology to software design, and from manufacturing — especially as companies expand their 3D printing abilities — to most engineering jobs, since all engineers need to understand how to program.”

Participants also learned about manufacturing techniques, with a special focus on how 3D printers create objects by melting plastics and depositing them in layers. The highlight of the camp for many participants was using a 3D printer to make their own designs — owls with turning heads and blinking eyes — come to life.

“The programming and circuits curriculum presented an engaging challenge,” Nichol said. “Some students were reluctant to personalize codes by editing them, but once the students started working with the electrical components, they were eager to complete each design challenge.”

The camp gave students, especially the girls, a greater sense of confidence, noted Magda Galindo, manager of HISD’s Migrant Education Program. “They were able to envision themselves pursuing a STEM career.”

The academy also gave participants a glimpse into what it’s like to attend a university. “Being on campus and going into common spaces in the dorms let them envision themselves as college students,” Nichol said.

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