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Exciting First-of-Its-Kind STEM Event for High School Students Was Big Success

MSEIP STEM Summer Experience at University of St. Thomas-HoustonDuring the summer, the University of St. Thomas-Houston held an exciting, first-of-its-kind, three-week event for minority high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program’s (MSEIP) Summer STEM Experience brought 20 students to campus for an immersive university environment with hands-on chemical and physical science activities.

An Enriching Experience for Minority STEM Students

Alongside their STEM projects, students worked on a research problem and a presentation under the guidance of university student mentors and UST professors.

The director of the summer program and its related U.S. Department of Education Grant, Dr. Richa Chandra, said, “During this enriching experience, student projects included working with the electro-magnetic waves that are emitted from items we use every day, such as microwaves and smartphones; polymer chemistry involving nylon synthesis; DNA extraction; and food chemistry.”

MSEIP STEM Summer Experience at University of St. Thomas_HoustonThe students were also exposed to state-of-the-art manufacturing processes in engineering, such as 3D printing, laser cutting and computer-controlled milling; they built an induction motor and had fun working with ‘flying pigs’ and taking a look through a solar telescope to identify sunspots.  

Chandra, an associate professor of chemistry, described the benefits derived by the students. “This experience gave them a glimpse into the life of a STEM college student. They were right here on campus while doing the science and engineering activities and creating relationships with the UST student mentors. I overheard one of the kids enthusiastically telling our mentor Ana Paula Guevara, ‘Thank you for everything. I will never forget you!’”

Co-Director Dr. Birgit Mellis, also Chair of Physics and Engineering, was part of organizing the unforgettable experience. She also recruited most of the facilitators and mentors, reserved the event classrooms and spaces, arranged transportation, managed the budget, and worked with student recruitment.

Chandra and Mellis partnered with Jaqueline Howard from the nonprofit STEM Bridges Houston to recruit students to successfully apply for the scholarships they needed to attend.  Students as young as 9th grade represented schools from multiple districts, including Houston and Channelview ISDs.

Geared toward underprivileged minority groups who would not usually have access to a university environment in STEM, this opportunity was golden — designed to fan the flames of STEM interest and open their eyes to the availability of higher education.

Chandra and Mellis say they plan to expand the experiences and offer it again next year. Funding from the U.S. Department of Education made the event possible.