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Local educators, students with technical skills shine during STEM Education Month

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Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill celebrated its annual STEAM Night on April 20. Photo courtesy of Sara Cottrell

Students and educators in science, technology, engineering and math are celebrating STEM Education Month across the state in April.

Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed this month as STEM Education Month in North Carolina on April 13.  Cooper wants to recognize STEM educators across the state who are preparing students for careers in STEM, according to a press release from his office.

William Vincent, an engineering instructor at East Chapel Hill High School, said every month is STEM Education Month for him. 

He holds STEM camps on Saturdays for underrepresented middle school students. High school students from these populations also often help with the camps, he said.

He said he has conducted research regarding underrepresented communities at ECHHS. In this context, underrepresented means a population that has a disproportionately low enrollment compared to the general population, Vincent said.

"We are trying to target underrepresented populations to extend an invitation and to expose them to STEM," he said.

Vincent said he would like to see more opportunities for people to see and connect with STEM and understand what it means. He said people’s perceptions of STEM are often narrow and that the month should highlight how the fields interact.

He added that even a few years ago, people thought artificial intelligence was a thing of science fiction, but now it is very much a reality, which will change opportunities available in the future.

“There are going to be other careers in the future that we don’t even know about,"  Vincent said. "When children who are kindergartners today go into the workforce, they are going to be facing a lot of different careers that don’t exist today."

Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill celebrated its annual STEAM Night on April 20 as part of the month. The A in STEAM stands for arts.

Sara Cottrell, an instructional technology facilitator at Ephesus Elementary School, said the school aims to equally represent other skills, such as art, alongside STEM in order to be more balanced.

“Some of the students that aren’t as traditionally successful in academics are able to then shine by doing some of the hands-on activities and demonstrating what they know,” Cottrell said.

Cottrell also said that while STEM Education Month is special to celebrate, the school wants to work on developing students' skills all year long. 

She said she would love to have more people in STEM careers, especially those from diverse racial backgrounds, come speak to students and expose them to different available opportunities.

“We want diverse racial representation to match our students, too, so that they are seeing people like them and they’re like, 'Oh, I could do that too!'” Cottrell said.

Ryan Huang, a sophomore at ECHHS, said he was first introduced to robotics by his sister when he was in elementary school.

“Ever since then, I have fallen in love with robotics, and I had been looking forward to joining the team ever since I was in the second grade,” Huang said. 

He said when he won a robotics competition, he started shedding tears of joy because he had waited for that moment for so long. He said he wants other kids to feel the same joy that he did that day.

Stacie Boyer, the principal of Ephesus Elementary School, said early exposure to STEM fosters creativity in children and allows their teachers to see a different side of them.

"I think it’s showing kids that they are not just a test score," Boyer said. "I think it’s showing kids that they can do something really creative and that it’s actually connected to something they can do later on."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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