Promoting the STEM subjects

Published 11:06 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Most people don’t believe me, but when I graduated high school, I had every intention of getting my bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

In the 11th grade, I realized I had a knack for it and thought it would be great to be a forensic chemist or a pharmacist.

Obviously, I never entered the scientific field, and after one semester pursuing chemistry at ODU, I didn’t have the passion for it and followed my ambition to write.

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I’ve recently been reminded of my short scientific career by attending several Suffolk Public School functions that focus on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Gov. Bob McDonnell made STEM his educational focus, hoping to both ignite and kindle passion in young Virginians to pursue science and math-based careers.

It’s a shame that kids who enjoy math and science are labeled nerds and losers, while the arts and letters subjects don’t carry the same stigma.

Those “nerds” will shape our future someday, making everything from the phones we adore to the soap that cleans our clothes, and many of the Suffolk school programs are trying to show the students that very fact.

A few weeks ago, I shadowed a group of seventh graders from Forest Glen Middle School as they toured Lockheed Martin’s Center for Innovation.

Not only was it an opportunity to enter the coolest building ever, but also it was an amazing chance for the students to see the real-world application of math and science that the Lockheed employees enact every day.

Many of the students said they had no idea that engineers and scientists do the things they do at Lockheed, such as creating flight simulation software.

In addition to the tour, Lockheed employees visited Forest Glen every other week throughout the school year to do experiments and discuss scientific and mathematic topics with the students.

Forest Glen math teacher Kris Gillgren said he was inspired to become partners with Lockheed Martin when he read that for every 10 engineers in Japan, there is one in America.

He said he thinks the students need to realize the possibility of science as a career before they can commit to it.

BASF also is working with Suffolk schools to promote sciences. The company brought its Kids Lab program to five Suffolk schools to bring chemistry to life for elementary school students.

BASF employees went to the elementary schools every month and conducted experiments, such as creating lava lamps, with the students.

I think activities like these can encourage students to forget about the “nerd” label it might afford them to pursue their love for math and science by seeing real world scientists in action.