It’s not uncommon to hear elementary schoolers from Jack A. Vickers Boys and Girls Club in Denver’s Northeast Park Hill neighborhood dropping complex terms like “3-D printing,” “prototyping,” “drones,” “Raspberry Pi,” “flight simulation” and “spatial visualization.”
This is especially true since the club’s partnership last summer with CU Denver science education professor Geeta Verma, PhD, and subaward from the University of Wyoming’s $1.2 million grant through the National Science Foundation (NSF). CU Denver is one of the many sites where this work is being done under the leadership of Dr. Jacqueline Leonard (principal investigator of the grant) at the University of Wyoming. Now, the sky’s the limit in terms of the students’ career paths.
Named for the first African American woman to receive a pilot’s license, the NSF’s Bessie Coleman Project called Using Computer Modeling and Flight Simulation to Create STEM Pathways, funded by the NSF’s ITEST program, is providing unique learning opportunities for underrepresented students in the Rocky Mountain and mid-Atlantic regions by leveraging Universal Design for Learning. CU Denver is one of the many sites where this work is being done in close collaboration with Dr. Jacqueline Leonard (principal investigator of the grant) at the University of Wyoming.
“Our kids not only enjoyed their time learning, but they came away with tangible knowledge and skills.”
Ana Gadson, director of the Vickers Boys and Girls Club
The Vickers Boys and Girls Club was the main site in Colorado. The grant project engaged youth in top-notch, culturally responsive, educationally enriching STEM activities. “Older youth enjoyed aviation-themed activities, from building paper airplanes to flight simulations using drones and Raspberry Pi,” said Verma. “Others were drawn to computer coding, computer modeling and 3-D printing. The goal was to motivate students to become aware of, interested in and prepared for cutting-edge and innovative STEM careers.”
Overcoming the achievement and opportunity gaps
For Verma and her grant colleges, access to these types of educationally enriching STEM activities is a civil rights issue. Her life goal is to include more girls and more elementary-aged underrepresented minorities in STEM.
“Exposure can increase students’ motivations, capabilities, potential for higher education and higher paying careers. This type of STEM exposure moves us one step further in the right direction,” said Verma.
Following exposure to these unique activities, students shared their near-future plans, which included the use of computer modeling, 3-D printing and drones, indicating that the project activities made an impact on students’ choices to enjoy STEM activities and consider STEM careers.
Impact at the Vickers Boys and Girls Club
“Our kids not only enjoyed their time learning,” said Ana Gadson, director of the Vickers Boys and Girls Club, “but they came away with tangible knowledge and skills. For example, some of our kids were new to the 3-D software Tinkercad, and by the end of the program, they not only understood the applications for it but also got to create and 3-D print their very own designs. It is so important that kids walk away from experiences with not just the know-how but able to practice the skills they learned. It was also an important experience for the young ladies in our club. They were at such ease that it allowed them to be excited and engaged in the STEM activities. This allowed them to explore a new field (aviation) more freely. We are all so grateful and thoroughly enjoyed our time with Dr. Verma and the rest of her team. Thank you so much for the experience.”