STEM Corps Provides Opportunities for Local Boys and Girls Club

JMU in the Community

by Alexa Jones

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SUMMARY: JMU students give back to the K-12 community through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club to engage local children in STEM.

Madison STEM Corps is a group of students from all majors who work with the JMU Center for STEM Education and Outreach to engage K-12 children from the community in a variety of inclusive STEM experiences. These include participation in school STEM days, hosting on-campus STEM field trips, and academic competitions.

Julianna DiRocco, a senior majoring in Health Sciences, had been developing programming for STEM Corps since Fall of 2019. “I have met so many students who truly have inspired me at their young ages. Seeing their resilience to situations in their lives is something that I feel can inspire in others”. In March of 2020, the Pandemic hit and in-person activities were put on hold. After a year of school closures, Julianna missed working with students in the community and met with Kerry Cresawn, director of the JMU STEM Center, to brainstorm ideas on how to continue giving back to the community through the pandemic.

Cresawn reached out to the director of the Boys and Girls Club, Sandra Quigg. “We look for key partnerships to enrich the experiences and expand the opportunities for our students”, explains Quigg, “Partnering with the JMU STEM Center allowed us to bring in expertise in areas that are difficult for us to master or sustain”. 

“The Boys and Girls Club members were spending most of the day on their computers learning remotely,” says Cresawn. “They were feeling mentally burned out with limited opportunity for social interaction. The STEM activities we developed for these children were intentionally designed to give them an opportunity to socially interact while engaging in fun, hands-on learning and not add to their cognitive load for the day,” Cresawn explains.

STEM Corps members continue to work under Cresawn’s mentorship to develop one-hour experiences designed to expose the children to the many disciplines and practices in STEM. These include design challenges in which the children work in teams to build a creation that carries out a particular function using engineering design principles and explorations in science ranging from the chemistry of slime to biodiversity. 

“We always had a plan going into the Boys and Girls Club, but it was important for us to be flexible and adjust our plans to best fit the students,” says Katherine Erdhal, a senior majoring in Media Arts and Design. “The students are full of energy and excited to start the experiment or project we have planned. It is great to see them having fun while learning about science. We can see the positive impact that STEM Corps has on their learning and interests,” says Erdhal.

One year into the partnership, more than 30 children ranging in ages 7-12 have been engaging with the same group of JMU students in more than 20 different STEM experiences, a model that Cresawn feels is impactful.

“Research shows the most critical time to pique interest in STEM is before middle school and it is these sustained and frequent interactions that are shown to have a long-lasting impact on STEM interest,” Cresawn said. “While this program started as a temporary pivot from our traditional programs, it has evolved into a sustainable partnership that we will continue to improve upon for years to come.”

Mutual benefit for the K-12 community and JMU students is also important to Cresawn. “Getting to interact with kids at the Boys and Girls Club is always fun and refreshing. Their kindness and carefree attitudes always rub off on me even after the busiest of weeks…I get to see kids excited about doing science and know that I had a small part to play in that,” said Luke Scrogham, a junior majoring in Biotechnology.

“The pandemic created very tight social circles, thus reducing our members’ social skills and increasing feelings of anxiety,” explains Quigg. “The JMU STEM students created good, safe, fun relationships with our kids.”

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Published: Monday, March 21, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, March 24, 2022

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