I ♥ STEM week highlights innovation

By Craig Gabrielson

As a part of the 50-year anniversary celebration, Whatcom dedicated a week to commemorate science, technology, engineering and mathematics with its “I heart STEM” week.
Faculty and students gathered for events centered around recent breakthrough in the STEM community, new scholarship opportunities and discussions about Whatcom’s new Bachelor of Applied Science degree.
Events kicked-off on Monday with an information table, where students could learn about STEM classes, clubs, future opportunities, get a close-up look at a 3-D printer, and take home a variety of prizes.
“We’re here to promote STEM and promote the new stuff that’s happening in STEM,” said Whatcom Chair of the Math Department, Crystal Holtzheimer. “Also, we’re here to share our passion of the STEM field and let students know what opportunities Whatcom has to offer.”
While faculty was in Syre giving out information and prizes to students, the physics department was outside with a live demonstration of how a pinhole camera works.
A small hole acts as an aperture on the side of an enclosed room that allows light to enter. It takes the image from outside and projects and inverted version on the inside. It’s the same concept behind the way a camera, and an eyeball, works.
“The pinhole camera generated a lot of interest from staff, faculty, and students and provided the physics department an opportunity to share how the camera worked,” said Heidi Ypma, Whatcom’s STEM Division Chair.
On Tuesday, a meeting was held in Syre to discuss Whatcom’s new four-year bachelor degree. Classes for the BAS in IT Networking are set to begin in fall quarter, 2017. Applications for the program began in January. According to Whatcom’s website, this degree “addresses the growing need for qualified IT networking personnel with enhanced hands-on skills and knowledge in cloud computing, mobile technologies and industrial control systems.”
“We have had a lot of interest and questions about the BAS degree. Space is limited so I would encourage students who would like to pursue the BAS in IT Networking degree this fall to apply as soon as possible. Students will be admitted on a first come basis if they meet the eligibility requirements,” Ypma said.
Whatcom is the recent recipient of the STEM Excellence through Engagement in Collaboration, Research, and Scholarship, or SEECRS, from the National Science Foundation. A meeting was held in Syre by Whatcom’s Dean for Instruction, Ed Harri and chemistry faculty member, Tommaso Vannelli to discuss the details of the scholarship. The grant is a five-year, $650,000 scholarship from the National Science Foundation. The scholarship is intended to provide academic support to 36 low-income students annually, who show academic promise and are pursuing degrees in the STEM field.
“There is tremendous need for a skilled workforce in STEM fields such as science, computer science, and engineering. There is also a need for scholars, teachers, and researchers in these areas. But there are not enough students making progress in these areas to meet workforce needs,” Harri said.
While the scholarship is not limited to a particular group, there is an active effort in the STEM community to get women and minorities more involved. According to the National Science Foundation, women represent 21 percent of professors in science and only 5 percent in engineering. Outside academia, women represent only 25 percent of the STEM workforce.
“These scholarships will support a large number of students over the life of the grant, and we want to support a diverse cohort of participants to help more women and students of color thrive and find peer and faculty support in the process,” Harri said.
On Wednesday, the biology and chemistry department offered an academic and career workshop to inform students about which classes to take, how to work with an advisor, and discuss career opportunities.
“The chemistry and biology workshop had the largest turnout it has ever seen and the engineering workshop was also well attended. So I would say they were definitely a success,” Ypma said. “The futures workshops usually occur every quarter, so if students missed it this quarter, they should watch for announcements next quarter.”
STEM week was brought to a close on Thursday evening with a screening of the movie, “The Martian.” In the movie, based on the novel written by Andy Weir, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded alone on Mars after the Martian weather takes a turn for the worse, and his crew leaves him behind thinking he has died. Watney has to use ingenuity and science to stay alive while those back on Earth figure out how to bring him home – alive.
“The programming and diversity board brainstormed some movies that had a STEM theme and I checked with faculty to see which one would best represent STEM.  The overwhelming number of faculty who responded, voted for The Martian, since it is a movie that accurately portrays science,” Ypma said.
Looking back on STEM week, the theme was common; get people interested and involved in STEM.
“Just think about the items you use every day that have been created by someone with knowledge in STEM; from the coffee maker you use in the morning, to the road you drive on to get to work or the smartphone in your pocket.  Students majoring in STEM disciplines also have excellent job prospects as many high demand jobs and careers are in these fields,” Ypma said.

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