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STAIRSTEP opens possibilities

Lamar University’s STAIRSTEP program continues to introduce area high school students to science, math and technology with the goal of increasing the number who will attain advanced degrees in these fields.

Recently 52 Nederland High School juniors and seniors along with three of their teachers visited LU in a program provided by Lamar’s STAIRSTEP (Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program). STAIRSTEP physics faculty mentor Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics, organized the event that included an orientation session, campus tour, and workshops/demonstrations by the STAIRSTEP teams in math, computer science, and physics.

The campus tour started with an orientation in the John Gray Center, where admissions representative Stephanie Norris gave a brief presentation on the university.  For the next hour, Bahrim answered students’ questions, presented the STAIRSTEP program and made shared about careers in physics.  The tour continued as the group walked by the Cardinal Village residence halls on the way to the MAES Building where the math session was held.

In the math session the students learned about the activities and undergraduate opportunities that STAIRSTEP offers (such as research and community outreach), careers available in mathematics, and a brief introduction to graph theory that included a comprehensive application to the six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon game, known as the “Oracle of Bacon.” During the game, students were asked to find actors and actresses with a Bacon number of 4 or 5, which has been coined as extremely challenging, and an almost impossible task. The math STAIRSTEP team members who participated in this session were Audrene Edwards of Dallas, Brittany Cashi of La Porte, Jonathan Hodges of Beaumont, and Cody Worth of Vidor.

“The event was empowering as well as exhilarating,” Edwards said. “During the math session we were able to offer the experiences and preparation for other opportunities STAIRSTEP has provided for us. We also had the privilege to provide different perspectives about mathematics and the unlimited possibilities that can become available through mathematics. Most of all, STAIRSTEP had the chance to represent Lamar University, and the great opportunities that Lamar University has to offer to its present and future students.”

The computer science STAIRSTEP team of undergraduates engaged the students in an hour-long hands-on workshop in game programming using a drag and drop program called “Snap!” during which they built an interactive game.  The workshop used materials developed by STAIRSTEP juniors Alexander Strong of Beaumont and Timothy Holcombe of Lumberton and sophomore Hannah Leleux of Bridge City.   Strong led the workshop, with STAIRSTEP senior Greg Year of Berville, Michigan, assisting with the demonstration.  Holcombe, Leleux and master’s student Phillip Potter of Silsbee helped the high school students as needed.    

“I was honored to represent Lamar University and STAIRSTEP during this event,” Strong said. “I think it had a great impact on our community and it was a great opportunity to showcase some of Lamar's strengths. Computer Science is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the 21st century. So, it felt wonderful to teach the students useful skills and concepts in my field of study and doubly so after I saw their faces light up while they began to create and experiment. I am proud to say I played a part in assisting Lamar and STAIRSTEP lead students into the future."

After lunch, Carlos Caballero, a prospective STAIRSTEP physics student, guided the students through campus, with quick stops at the College of Engineering and the Library, and led the visitors to Archer – Physics building, where Bahrim treated them to a laser show.  In the auditorium, the students enjoyed demonstrations of electricity, magnetism, radiation from antennas, and fiber optics.  They learned that light transports energy. When produced by atoms the light signature is unique for each chemical element and looks like a bar code. When it travels, light is a wave which diffracts, interferes, and shows polarization properties.  The polarization phenomenon allowed students to understand the IMAX 3D movies; the trapping of light in optical pipes or water threads is a phenomenon used in optical communication. A combined phenomenon with a fog machine and expanded lasers allowed us to simulate spectacular 3D images of stellar nebulas.  One of the highlights of the physics session was to prove that electrons interact with crystals as wave rather than particles.

The Nederland High School students were accompanied by physics teacher Jared Henderson, chemistry teacher Sue Jordan and calculus teacher Catherine Baker.   

“Nederland High School’s visit to Lamar University as guests of the Mathematics, Computer Science and Physics STAIRSTEP program was a wonderful opportunity to introduce our students to some of the exiting career options available to students in each of the represented disciplines,” Henderson said. “Most valuable for our high school students was the opportunity to speak to faculty and high performing college students about the options open to students of each of these departments and to find out what students and professionals in each of these fields actually do. 

“This visit provided a much needed context for students preparing for the next phase of their education by discussing the value of undergraduate research opportunities and one on one interaction with professors as a distinguishing factor in the college selection process,” Henderson said. “The discussions I had with our students about math, computer science, and physics over the following days served as a testament to the success of the visit. We appreciated the opportunity to visit Lamar University and look forward to the opportunity to bring more of our students to participate in this program.”

Many of the students echoed the enthusiasm. “My visit to Lamar University was great!  I liked the Professors and the campus,” said student Luis Ortiz. “They taught me some neat tricks on computer programming and I also designed a quick video game I called ‘penguin land.’  We also went to a Physics presentation.  There were many cool experiments that the professor explained.  They were extremely confusing until he gave us an explanation.  I really liked the physics professor.  Not only did he convince me to go to Lamar, I’m also seriously considering taking physics.”