Four floors of fun activities filled four hours of Saturday, April 15, for STEM Day at Virginia Western Community College, a program designed for elementary and middle school students.
Virginia Western faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics teamed up with community partners to introduce their fields to the college students of tomorrow in fun ways. The outreach was open to any K-8 student in the college’s service region, encompassing Roanoke, Salem, Roanoke County, Craig County, Franklin County and southern Botetourt County.
An estimated crowd of more than 2,000 people filled halls and courtyards, as kids excitedly progressed from station to station. Students received passports, which were stamped at each station they visited. Kids who filled their passport completely could return the passport for a chance to win a $50 gift card.
Hands-on activities included using a Raspberry Pi for gaming and coding; 3D printing; robots; dissections, DNA extractions, specimens and anatomical skeletons; animal models including a cow and horse hoof; rocks of Minecraft; sound and glass; Non-Newtonian fluids; slime; leaf and tree activities; and more.
Chemistry professor Lanette Upshaw coordinated the event. Upshaw said she and other faculty members have helped area schools host STEM Nights. After one such event at Back Creek Elementary, she had a new idea. Why not “bring people here to campus,” she said, “and get young kids excited about STEM?”
The free event ran 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Virginia Western STEM building. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the STEM building’s potential for events such as this one is only now coming to fruition. Not only could students learn about STEM topics, they could see and use some of the state-of-the-art equipment and tools available throughout the building’s lab space.
“We are thrilled to welcome our community onto our beautiful campus to experience the many STEM opportunities that are available to our students,” said Virginia Western Dean of STEM Amy White. “This showcase is a testament to the commitment of our faculty and staff to celebrating STEM in the Roanoke region.”
STEM Day activities spanned the subjects of chemistry, mechatronics, geology, physics, biology, agriculture, engineering, math, information technology, biotechnology and astronomy.
Community partners boosted the learning opportunities for students ― and helped satisfy hunger during the event. The Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office provided free hot dogs. Children had the chance to see Virginia Tech’s formula race car and motorcycle team, and the Virginia Department of Forensic Science had educators on site. High school STEM clubs from around the Roanoke Valley also participated.
Another community partner involved was Novozymes, an innovative international company with a very local commitment. The STEM Division was pleased to have them as a participant in this event, which adds to a history of partnerships between Novozymes and Virginia Western.