STEM Up Phase 1: Empowering Engineering for Rural STEM Access

STEM Up Phase 1: Empowering Engineering for Rural STEM AccessThe video above is from SMU’s Giving Day in 2019 when the Hunt Institute’s project focused on the idea of bringing STEM education resources to rural communities. With motivation from personal experience, Cydney Snyder researched the potential of developing STEM camps in rural areas.

STEM Up Phase I: Empowering Engineering for Rural STEM Access focused on place-based education, specifically targeting rural schools that do not have the same support for STEM initiatives as many urban schools do.

The result of Ms. Snyder’s work was a report titled STEM UP: STEM for Rural Communities that proposed the use of place-based education to teach students about STEM in a summer camp setting. In the summer of 2019, STEM Up took on a different shape. After attempts to connect with camps in rural communities, the problem became clear – a growing number of rural areas did not have the resources to support summer camps.

With this revelation, the Institute partnered with the Caruth Center for Engineering Education to implement a STEM Up project, Evie-in-a-Box, with Caruth’s summer campers to test the interest level of the students. It was a huge success. The Institute made an open-sourced how-to video with a PDF containing instructions and dimensions for the project. All supplies are available at a typical hardware store or through Amazon.

In the summer of 2020, due to the global pandemic, summer camps were held virtually. As a result, the Caruth Center used the kits for remote camps, testing the true capabilities of the kits. Similar to the previous year, campers reported the kits being one of their favorite activities.

Snyder said, “Once when jokingly describing how I could see cows grazing outside the window of my US History class, a peer asked me, ‘if you came from a place like that, why are you normal?’ This project is important because millions of students grow up in rural communities and believe that their community is not good enough.”

Snyder’s concluding remarks in her paper sum up the spirit of Phase 1, “In development, growth is seen as an indicator of progress which leads to a lack of understanding of places that choose and rejoice in staying small. When students have to leave their communities in order to find more educational opportunities, they are not taught about subjects that relate to their experiences and their communities. Furthermore, when students leave their communities, they quickly find that people think of small rural communities as lesser. As a result, these students learn to reject small-town values and traditions, deny the good parts of their upbringing, and repress those aspects of their background that make them feel [like the] “other.” This camp, and in general the movement of place-based education, can provide students with a new narrative of what it means to be from rural areas while also giving them the opportunity to have a more well-rounded and adequate STEM education.”

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