“It’s the closest to magic you can get,” Snyder said. “I can make things explode, do all the color changes, all this stuff—that’s why you want to be a scientist.”
Yet Snyder, along with UNC sophomores Mihir Pershad , Charlotte Story and Zach Dvorak , have seen what they believe is a huge disconnect in the educational system — students are not prepared for the growing number of jobs in the STEM fields, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The group created SUCCEED Inc. to address the gap, by changing the existing mentality that science is boring.
“By the time (kids) get to college, they’re not even interested in science, because they’ve never had fun science,” Pershad said. “Our goal is to make science interactive and hands-on.”
SUCCEED takes surplus lab equipment from university classes and biotechnology companies and redistributes it to schools, along with complete instructions for experiments and worksheets designed to meet curriculum standards.
In January, the group applied to the CUBE , a two-year social innovation incubator at the Campus Y, and recieved resources including money, mentorship and free legal services. So far, SUCCEED has been able to provide 400 students with kits in several Chapel Hill-Carrboro middle schools.
The group plans on launching their pilot program this fall in all four middle schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system. Pershad said the goal is to expand to Durham and Chatham counties, setting up chapters at Duke University and N.C. State University.
“For the student, the look on their face when they see a picture, versus the look on their face when they’re looking through a microscope and see something moving — it’s something you can’t really measure when you’re looking at a budget sheet,” said Dvorak.
Dvorak cited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s research, which shows that 1.2 million job openings will occur in the STEM fields by 2018, but no one will be qualified enough to fill them.
SUCCEED is partnering with the Morehead Planetarium, which has taken its own steps not only to engage students in STEM, but also to increase the diversity of those students as well.
The planetarium hosts science camps and year-round programs to engage students in science. On April 5, the planetarium hosted nearly 150 students from around North Carolina at the first annual STEMville Science Symposium. Crystal Adams, director of external programs, said research shows that children between 4th and 8th grade — especially girls and minorities — show a decrease of interest in science education.
Jamila Simpson, assistant dean for diversity and student services at N.C. State University, attended the symposium to engage the kids with fun science demonstrations in the planetarium. Her hope is that the students study science — or, at the very least, become scientifically literate.
“Over time, they begin to see science as just about the textbooks, or science as just about the answers,” Simpson said. “Science is partly that, but it’s also about the questions.”