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STAIRSTEP introduces area students to STEM opportunities

Port Arthur groupLamar University’s STAIRSTEP program continues to help students develop research and presentation skills to enhance their success in the professional STEM fields.

Recently 30 Port Arthur High School freshmen along with their two teachers, counselor and associate principal visited LU in a program hosted by Lamar’s STAIRSTEP (Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program). The freshmen visitors are enrolled in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) course, an academic elective course that prepares students for college readiness and success.

The visit included an orientation session, campus tour and workshops/demonstrations by the STAIRSTEP teams in math, computer science, and physics. STAIRSTEP math team undergraduates led the campus tour, which included a scavenger hunt with prizes.

Student helpingSTAIRSTEP faculty mentor Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics, presented the STAIRSTEP program and discussed what physics represents as a science discipline. STAIRSTEP physics students, Carlos Caballero and Robert de la Cruz, assisted Bahrim in engaging the students with a variety of hands-on physics demonstrations involving electricity, magnetism and optics. Some of the demonstrations included making a student’s hair stand on end, making the variable electric field induce magnetism in objects and transferring electric energy into a discharge tube to make it glow without any physical contact. The optics demonstration included decomposing light from various sources through diffraction to observe the bar code identity of atoms and trapping the light into a transparent material, thus showing the way a fiber optic cable actually works.

The session ended with de la Cruz demonstrating his “magnetic cannon.”

“I showed a recently built project to demonstrate Gauss’ law and to show them that they could also make things,” de la Cruz said. “I think they enjoyed all of the demos.”

Group pictureThe computer science STAIRSTEP team of undergraduates engaged the students in an hour-long session beginning with a presentation of Lamar’s new game programming concentration by computer science associate professor Timothy Roden and a presentation on careers in computing by STAIRSTEP senior Greg Yera of Berville, Michigan, juniors Alexander Strong of Beaumont and Timothy Holcombe of Lumberton and sophomore Hannah Leleux of Bridge City. After the presentation, the undergraduates guided the freshmen in a series of hand-exercises in which they created an interactive animation using a drag and drop-programming tool called Scratch. Holcombe led the workshop with Strong assisting with the demonstration. Leleux, Yera and master’s student Phillip Potter of Silsbee provided help to the students as needed.

“I greatly enjoyed instructing the kids and teaching them about animation,” Holcombe said. “The kids were pleasant and attentive. I felt it went well.”

After lunch was provided with support from Brenda Nichols, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the STAIRSTEPS mathematics undergraduates held an hour-long session that introduced students to the concept of math existing in places least expected with a presentation on the use of origami and the Huzita-Hatori Axioms of Folding in cutting edge modern technologies. Led by STAIRSTEP senior Cody Worth with assistance from junior Tera Benoit, both of Vidor, along with junior Jason Miller from Baltimore, Maryland, Jonathan Hodges, and senior Brittany Cashi of LaPorte, Texas, the talk ended with creating fun shapes such as cranes, mustaches and dragons to reinforce the axioms that had been taught in the lecture. Benoit led the workshop with the help of Cashi.

Teaching“Origami is a new research topic in our STAIRSTEP program and is my focus in research,” Benoit said. “I was really surprised at how popular it was with the students. They all seem engaged and curious about how hobby paper folding was not only a type of math, but it is also used in so many modern technologies. I received a lot of questions. Overall, it went really well.”

The STAIRSTEP team has invited four other local schools to participate in similar visits this spring.

For more information about STAIRSTEP, visit