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STAIRSTEP hosts campus visits for Central Magnet High School

students programmingLamar University’s Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program (STAIRSTEP) hosted campus visits by 47 Central Medical Magnet High School students, their AP Biology teacher Randy Pemberton, and Assistant Principal Belinda George on April 22 and April 27.

The students learned about LU’s academic programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and toured campus facilities, including the Setzer Student Center, Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center, Brooks-Shivers Dining Hall and Cardinal Village residence halls.  Then, the students engaged in a series of one-hour hands-on workshops/demonstrations led by STAIRSTEP undergraduates and faculty mentors in mathematics, computer science, biology and physics.

Oragami and mathCristian Bahrim led the students’ orientation with the help of Suzanne Wheeler and John Pickren.

Students learned about mathematic research at LU in a talk by STAIRSTEP math juniors Tera Benoit of Vidor and Jason Miller of Washington State, and senior Jonathan Hodges of Beaumont, as they described their research in mathematics, presented a hands-on session in the mathematics of folding and applying it to making origami led by Benoit, and participated in a hands-on session in graph theory led by Miller.

The Computer Science session included a hands-on session in game programming using a drag and drop tool called Snap to teach students basic computing concepts.  STAIRSTEP Computer Science seniors Timothy Holcombe and of Lumberton and Diego Fernandez of Port Neches each led a session, with seniors Hannah Leleux of Bridge City and Alexander Strong of Beaumont demonstrating while juniors Tim Gonzales of Beaumont and Colin Smith of Bridge City helped the students.

Central High SchoolThe Biology session included a presentation on career development opportunities and principles of molecular genetics led by undergraduate Datron Brown of Houston and faculty mentor Matt Hoch, associate professor of biology, followed by a virtual lab activity on forensic biology by led by undergraduates Claudia Marroquin and Linda K. Pham of Port Arthur.  Students were exposed to DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction amplification of marker genes, and size separation of markers by capillary electrophoresis, and analysis of the marker profile to those of individuals in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System CODIS database.

The Physics session was coordinated by Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics, assisted by Suzanne Wheeler, John Pickren and Azam Nurul, physics faculty members James Drachenberg, assistant professor, and Cengiz Sen, adjunct instructor, and the physics manager Lyle Goines. The physics showcase included an introduction to general physics followed by applications on electromagnetic phenomena and optics.  Drachenberg offered a lesson about the science behind an electric guitar and the theremine, an electronic instrument discovered in 1920s. On April 27, the student visitors enjoyed a special treat: ice cream made with liquid nitrogen by Wheeler and Pickren.

“I loved being able to reach out and relate to high school students with my experiences in physics,” Pickren said. “It's actually very easy for students like us to make physics interesting for incoming students, and it's rewarding to see so many interested in STEM fields.”

The STAIRSTEP program goal is to increase the number of undergraduates getting degrees in STEM.  The program received a 2013 Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for its contributions to closing the gaps in higher education in Texas.  The program is funded in part this year by a grant from ExxonMobil.

For more information, please visit or contact University Professor Peggy Doerschuk, director of STAIRSTEP at