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Two students from Harvest Prep Academy take part in an experiment to "launch" balloons at the University of Minnesota.
A closer look
U outreach program exposes children to science and engineering
By Christie Vogt
Feb. 27, 2007
Last Friday, the University's Academic Programs for Excellence in Engineering and Science (APEXES) hosted 60 girls from the Minneapolis Afrocentric Charter School, Harvest Prep Academy. The event was in honor of Black History Month and National Engineers Week.
"The purpose of the visit is to expose students to different fields of engineering and sciences through hands-on projects," APEXES outreach associate Richard Pollard explained. "By exposing children to science and engineering at younger ages, we have more time to equip them for academic excellence in math and science, which in turn will prepare them to compete at a higher level in college and beyond."
When asked what she likes most about science, student Aryanne replied, "I like experiments, because sometimes you get to eat them!" A balloon then burst a few feet away, followed by streams of giggles from the fifth and sixth grade girls.
Two girls explained that they get frustrated with science experiments when they don't know what to do, but student Kadeejah offered some words of advice: "You have to have a good attitude, because sometimes it doesn't work when you first do it."In one activity, the students were taught how to make balloon rockets in order to demonstrate how unbalanced forces produce motion. Amidst much noise and laughter, some balloons "launched" along a length of string and others did not. When Pollard asked the group afterwards what some problems might have been, the students addressed such complications as escaping air, too much tape, and not enough string. One young girl raised her hand and said, "I don't know how to blow up a balloon!"
APEXES is a program in the U's Institute of Technology that encourages academic excellence in engineering, physical sciences, and mathematics. The program focuses on students of color and women, and works to increase the number of students from underrepresented populations who earn degrees in these disciplines.
Science is student Kyla's subject of choice, and like most of her peers, her favorite part is "all the experiments!" Fellow student Aryanne originally had aspirations of being a singer, but her mom told her "to always have a Plan B," and so she is now considering becoming a doctor or lawyer.
Because women are underrepresented in the engineering and science fields, this type of outreach may be essential for young girls to realize their potential. In regard to the computer science field, APEXES director Samuel Moore told the students that even though there are not a lot of women in it today, women have been there since the very beginning. Grace Hopper was a computer science pioneer, and this month Frances E. Allen became the first woman to be awarded the Turing Award for her contributions to the field.
Moore believes that one reason there is a lack of women in the engineering and science fields is that girls "are not encouraged to go into [them]," and there are not many role models in whose footsteps they could follow.
Two girls explained that they get frustrated with science experiments when they don't know what to do, but student Kadeejah offered some words of advice: "You have to have a good attitude, because sometimes it doesn't work when you first do it."
Miata Foluke, a sixth grade teacher at Harvest Prep Academy, said she wanted the girls to walk away from the event with a better appreciation of math and science and how they work in the world. She said she hopes that, most of all, they will learn not to be afraid of these sometimes daunting subjects.
Toward the end of the day, Moore asked who would like to come to the U this summer to work on robots. The room erupted with raised hands--a possible indicator of the future of engineering and science.
Christie Vogt is an editorial assistant with University Relations.