STEM Week at Cascade Campus

By Leah Bell-Johnson|March 2, 2017Cascade, News|

Recently Cascade campus played host to a series of workshops, documentary screenings, and presentations that made up STEM Week. STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, makes up a significant portion of the degrees earned at PCC. Due to this high number of STEM-focused majors and a general misrepresentation of the sciences, ASPCC Cascade staff members Mohamad Abdulkarim, Filadelfia Tadjibaeva, and Hector Najera-Hernandez began collaborating back in Fall term to organize an event that would give students the opportunity to interact with and learn more about STEM.

Many STEM related events have been held at PCC in the past, but this was the first time ASPCC created a whole week around it. While Cascade was the first campus to host STEM Week, it will not be the only one: Sylvania and Southeast are expected to hold similar events within the next few weeks. The organizers made a point of scheduling events in the Student Union building during common hours in order to encourage as many students as possible to come.

STEM Week at Cascade kicked off on February 20th with a screening of the documentary, “Shaking Grounds,” an in depth look at the technology involved in constructing cities. The film’s intention was to expose students to some of the inherent risks of living in cities as well as show them what kinds of jobs a degree in engineering, specifically civic engineering, might have to offer. Speakers were expected to come and discuss civic issues in relation to the documentary, but unfortunately they cancelled last minute.

The second day offered students a chance to listen to and interact with people working professionally in the STEM fields. The workshop drew speakers both from within PCC as well as independent institutions. I sat down with Abdulkarim, Najera-Hernandez, and Tadjibaeva shortly after the first event wrapped up to ask them a few questions about the week ahead. “Basically the first two days we wanted to give the students a chance to interact with actual professionals in the field, to see what their day to day life is like and see what steps they took to become who they are today,” stated Najera-Hernandez. Abdulkarim chimed in, adding that the workshop would also discuss scholarships both in and out of Oregon in order to show students what sort of resources and opportunities might be available in the STEM fields.

The second half of the week focused on the more hands-on aspects of the STEM fields. On Wednesday a “Fun Science” event was held, with interactive experiments involving static electricity, acidity, and spectroscopes among others and a table displaying student work. Faculty from the science department oversaw the experiments and answered questions from students.

When asked why she thought STEM Week was important, Stephanie Bryan, a Chemistry teacher at Cascade helping to facilitate the event, emphasized the opportunity it provides for teachers to interact with students outside of the science department and vice versa. “We also want to show students that science can be accessible: it’s not scary, it’s fun!” she added enthusiastically. Ken Friedrich, chair of the Chemistry department and co-facilitator of the event, shared similar sentiments, explaining how their use of small scale experiments for the event shows how simple (and green) science can be.

STEM Week wrapped up on Thursday with a classic egg drop challenge in the Student Union building. Students had the opportunity to sign up as teams and were given certain materials to work with. The teams had 25 minutes to design a structure that would protect an egg dropped from the second floor of the building to the first. The egg drop was both a challenge of creativity and understanding of physics, according the rules of the event “This challenge is NOT about packing an egg for a drop… The purpose of this design is to have the lightest structure with an open-air design as opposed to enclosure packaging of the egg.” The winning designs were chosen based on a combination of lightest weight, fewest number of parts, creativity, and not breaking the egg.

Najera-Hernandez, Abdulkarim, and Tadjibaeva hope this week’s worth of events will serve as a template for the future, encouraging ASPCC to continue hosting STEM Week at Cascade and other campuses. It not only encourages students to learn a bit more about STEM but helps to destigmatize those areas of study, Abdulkarim summed it up nicely when he said, “If you have interest in something you can do it… science does not have to be boring or hard.”

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