Grad Students Bring STEM Opportunities to Local High School

science students in high school lab

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high school student tests biomedical engineering machine
High school student Corian Dennis tests equipment in the engineering lab as part of the STEM Theory program. (Courtesy R Ricarte)

Ralm Ricarte, an assistant professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and Florida State University, and a team of graduate students from the department are bringing STEM Theory to a local high school.

STEM Theory is a National Science Foundation outreach program geared toward encouraging underrepresented minority high school students to pursue a doctoral degree in a science, technology, math or engineering field.

Ricarte and his team have been working with students at Rickards High School, which has a large African American student population, since the fall. The idea is to bring STEM Theory mentors from the college to visit the high school biweekly to conduct hands-on science lessons with the high schoolers.

“Through this approach, STEM Theory connects students to Ph.D. mentor role models who can demonstrate the collaborative nature of science,” Ricarte said. “Mentors also gain critical experience in performing hands-on science outreach.” 

Hannah Bryant is a graduate student in biomedical engineering and has volunteered as a mentor with the program for the last two semesters. Bryant explained what a privilege it was to work on the team.

high school students in college engineering lab
High school students are given information about careers, advanced degrees and studies in engineering by members of STEM Theory at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. (Courtesy R Ricarte)

“I had the opportunity to work with some amazing graduate student mentors who have different life experiences,” Bryant said. “We have first-generation students and international students on the team, and everyone is devoted to uplifting the students at the high school.”

Every month, high school students get lessons that cover different science topics focusing on the scientific method. They cover high-level topics, such as electromyography that measures neural activity. 

“This program helps young individuals discover what STEM is all about and that this community is within their reach if they wish to join,” Bryant explained. “I am looking forward to seeing this program continue to grow and show many students that if pursuing a higher education is a dream of theirs that it is achievable.”

In the spring, the students visited the joint engineering college campus to perform experiments and learn the difference between B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. STEM degrees. They also received information on how to finance their university education. 

Rickards high school students will take surveys before and after participation in the program to evaluate their interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in STEM and to assess how effective the program is, Ricarte says.



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