Rowan College at Gloucester County (RCGC) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students are hoping to spark a lifelong passion for the sciences in young girls and boys, thanks to an innovative program that explores the world through creative and fun hands-on experiments.
STEM Scouts, a new program offered through the Boy Scouts of America, provides young scientists the opportunity to investigate thought-provoking activities in learning environments outside of the traditional classroom. On Tuesday evenings at 6 p.m., students in third through fifth grades visit the RCGC campus to participate in labs under the guidance of the College's dean of STEM, Dr. Christina Nase, and a group of five student volunteers. The labs include intriguing titles such as "Squishy, Gooey Chemistry," "Elephant Toothpaste," "Edison Robots," "Flying, Falling and Fluid Dynamics," "Creepy Eyeballs" and "Burglar Buzzer."
"I am happy we have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists through our STEM Scouts lab. Every week, we get to see these budding scientists and future engineers work though the labs and develop their problem solving skills in a fun and nurturing environment," said Nase. "As a mother of one of the scouts, I am pleased to see my daughter enjoying the program. I am also thankful for the friendships she has developed with the other scouts. The RCGC students who have stepped up to become STEM Scout leaders are phenomenal. Without their hard work and dedication, there is no way we could have this program. I can see their leadership skills getting stronger as they facilitate the meetings."
Liliana Lemanowicz, a second-year physics major from Williamstown, is one of the volunteers who assists Nase with both STEM Scouts and the RCGC Science Club's school outreach program — a program that brings college students into local elementary schools to perform experiments. With plans to become a physics teacher, Lemanowicz seeks out ways to make science interesting while teaching youngsters how to think like a scientist by hypothesizing, testing and evaluating.
"Interest in science begins at an early age. I knew I wanted a career in the physical sciences starting in elementary school, and I fell in love with physics after taking my first course in eighth grade," said Lemanowicz. "STEM Scouts is something that I personally wish I had as a kid. They are learning, having fun and making friends. It is an experience that they won't get anywhere else."
Joseph Albanese, a homeschooled student enrolled in RCGC's High School Option Program, has been taking college classes since the fall of 2015. In May, he will graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in computer science. Recruited by a friend to help out with the STEM Scouts, he went to a meeting and was hooked. He has been volunteering ever since.
"It's rewarding to see the students completely engaged in the experiments. Not only is it great to teach them something, but they are enjoying themselves too," commented Albanese, of Sewell. "Science should be fun and this program does that extremely well."
While STEM Scouts is a great way to help youth get over their fear of science, it has also proved to be a beneficial learning experience for RCGC's student volunteers — Lemanowicz, Albanese, Emily Kotter, Amanda Odd, Csaba Otvos and Madison Mulcahy.
"I plan to become a physics teacher so being able to work together with people of all ages is important," noted Lemanowicz. "I help the Scouts with the activities, interact with my peers in doing so and look up to the professionals who guide us."
"Being a volunteer in this program will definitely be beneficial to me," added Albanese, who is interested in earning a bachelor's degree in computer science. "It is one thing to understand what is going on behind the scenes of an experiment, but being able to explain it to children in a way that is both easy to understand and entertaining is entirely different. It gave me a new perspective on things."
"STEM Scouts is a great opportunity for youth to learn STEM differently than in a traditional school setting," said Boy Scouts of America STEM Executive Kevin Kelley. "STEM Scouts experiments are hands-on and provide the safe space for students to tinker, create and explore without fear of failing a test or missing a homework assignment. In addition to the wide variety of concepts learned, the most important integration is that of the Scout Oath and Law. It is through the Scouting way of life that boys and girls can learn to be leaders — kind and good citizens in their community."
On March 29, the Boy Scouts of America Garden State Council will hold a STEM Scout Expo at RCGC from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The science fair fundraising event will provide New Jersey STEM Scouts the opportunity to showcase curriculum lab experiments while raising awareness about the program. Scouts will be able to enjoy multiple STEM-themed vendors with interactive experiments, including a 3-D printer, in addition to awards and prizes. The ticketed event is open to family, friends and the public. For parents and students interested in finding out more about STEM Scouts, the expo offers a chance to talk with leaders and see the exciting experiments being taught in labs.
For more information about STEM Scouts, visit stemscouts.org or contact Kevin Kelley at 609-261-5850, ext. 212. To learn more about the College's STEM programs, visit RCGC.edu/STEM.
Rowan College at Gloucester County is located at 1400 Tanyard Road in Deptford, just off Exit 56 of Route 55.