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STAIRSTEP hosts STEM outreach program

origamiSTAIRSTEP (Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program) hosted 31 students from Port Neches-Groves High School April 21 for a campus tour and workshops/demonstrations by STAIRSTEP teams in math, computer science and physics.  The program is designed to increase the number of students seeking undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  Lamar students, grouped in special teams, led the campus tour which included a scavenger hunt with prizes.

The computer science team engaged the students in a hands-on workshop that introduced programming concepts.   They guided the high school juniors in a series of exercises in which they created an interactive game using SNAP!, a drag and drop-programming tool.  Timothy Gonzales, a Beaumont sophomore, led the workshop with assistance from Alexander Strong, a Beaumont senior; Colin Smith, a Bridge City sophomore; Cody Worth, a Vidor senior; Jonathan Hodges, a Beaumont senior; Tera Benoit of Vidor and Jason Miller a junior from Baltimore, Md.

“I had a great time teaching the students,” Gonzalez said.  “I feel I was able to foster interest in computer science from the PNG students. I hope they will continue to explore the world of computer science.”

The mathematics team led by Worth, introduced students to the concept of math existing in places least expected.  The students learned the basics of graph theory as well as vectors and path-finding algorithms in video games.  Benoit presented on the Seven Axioms of Origami and situations where origami is used in the real world.

Faculty mentor Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics, presented the physics program including demonstrations with light and spectroscopy.  Carlos Caballero, from Nederland and Keeley Townley-Smith from Lumberton assisted Bahrim in a variety of optics demonstrations, including the emission bar codes of various compounds, imaging atomic structures and trapping light within a thin water flow. The rotational property of light was discussed and simulated with a spinning wheel. Simulations with polarizers and colored filters explained the modern IMAX technology and 3D movies. 

“It was really nice to see how the students were amazed by the different optic phenomena,” Caballero said.  “This is a good way to illustrate some basic principles.  It is a good way to get students interested in science.  They can see how fun and entertaining it can be.”

Jill Hamilton, the Port Neches-Groves math teacher who coordinated the visit, participated in STAIRSTEP in 2009 as a Lamar student, the first year of the program, performing research and outreach.  Hamilton now teaches math courses at PN-G and is inspiring the next generation of students to participate in STEM.

“It was a great experience with the different arrays of science illustrated today,” she said.  “I like that they get to see the real world applications of the subjects they are learning in their core classes today.  The students saw some things today that they hadn’t seen before.  It definitely sparked some interest.”

This is the third on-campus visit with local high schools STAIRSTEP has hosted this academic year.  For more information about STAIRSTEP, visit