STEM Fiesta Continues on Campus


STEM Fiesta Continues on Campus


D.P.T. student Ashly White demonstrates the proper way to use a walker.
D.P.T. student Ashly White
demonstrates the proper way to use a
Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News

More than 200 students from middle and high schools in rural West Texas converged at The University of Texas at El Paso to explore higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The students from the school districts of Presidio, Van Horn, Alpine, Del City and Marfa were among 5,000 youths who attended the first STEM Fiesta Wednesday, May 28, at the Judson F. Williams Convention Center. Presented by the Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande, the STEM Fiesta aims to increase awareness among middle school and high school students in the region about the opportunities in STEM education and careers.

The one-day event featured more than 50 STEM exhibits by businesses and educational institutions. Faculty and students from UTEP's College of Health Sciences introduced participants to different career choices.

"Science and math are key requirements for students aspiring to enter the health professions," said College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D. "Health occupations comprise some of the top career fields for the 21st century, with solid employment prospects and long-term stability. There are critical shortages of these professionals and high needs throughout our region. We want to include these students in the next generation of bilingual, bicultural health professionals for both our region and nation."

Students also participated in robotics, gaming and information technology competitions and the STEM Challenge Business Competition.

"STEM education is important because there are over 100 different occupations under the STEM umbrella that cover all the areas of science, technology, engineering and math," said Mike Acosta, STEM Consultant at Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande. "(The STEM Fiesta) is a great thing for all our students in the (Paso Del Norte) region but especially for students from the rural areas, because they don't get exposed to (STEM) that often. Also, to be at UTEP and see what (the University) has to offer, especially in STEM, is a great opportunity for (these students)."

After the Fiesta, students from several rural school districts spent Wednesday night in the Miner Heights dormitory where they got a sense of what it is like to be away from home in college. Activities included swimming at the Student Recreation Center and a cookout in the Miner Heights courtyard.

"We want them to experience university life and help them to realize that while university life is studying hard and working hard, it also has a lot of opportunities for growth and development and social development," said Leticia Paez, assistant dean for community and international programs in the College of Health Sciences.

The following morning students toured the Center for Simulation, the Assisted Daily Living lab, the group observation room and the clinica

l laboratory sciences lab located on the first floor of the Health Sciences and Nursing Building.

Students also visited the Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC), a 140,000 square foot research facility that houses state-of-the-art laboratories dedicated to federally funded biomedical research.

In the BBRC, students observed scientists in their laboratories who are working on a wide variety of important human diseases including diabetes, obesity, leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, HIV infection, drug-resistant tuberculosis, behavioral disorders, drug addiction and Alzheimer's disease.

The tours were an opportunity for the future Miners to get excited by the prospect of working with advanced technologies in the BBRC's laboratories as undergraduate students at UTEP, said Marc B. Cox, Ph.D., associate professor at the BBRC and the Department of Biological Sciences.

"As UTEP continues in the pursuit of Tier One research status we want to recruit and retain the best and the brightest from our region and demonstrate to them that a career in biomedical research is an attainable goal," Cox said. "Many students are somewhat intimidated by the idea of a career in scientific research. Convincing them that they have what it takes to be a scientist starts at the time of recruiting. These tours are often the first time the students have had the opportunity to see an actual biomedical research laboratory, and to observe scientists in action. They quickly realize that many of the scientists they are seeing are, in fact, undergraduate students."

The College of Engineering welcomed students to the Academic Center for Engineers and Scientists (ACES) – labs in the Classroom and Physical Sciences buildings.

"The Claw," a materials science and biomedical engineering activity, grabbed their attention.

With the help of engineering students, Samantha Valdez, a freshman at Presidio High School, used paper clips, string and tubing insulation to create a claw.

"At first I was kind of confused because I wasn't sure how we were supposed to make it move but then we found out we had to cut (the tubbing) so it could bend," said Valdez, who tugged at the strings to move the joints on the claw she made.

Gabby Gandara, director of engineering student services, explained the project was meant to help students understand the kinematics, or motion, in a claw.

"(STEM is) important to (high school students) as part of their education and important to us (in the College of Engineering) as they might be engineering majors one of these days," Gandara said. "It is also important to everyone as we need more engineering minds in this country that have different perspectives and experiences. Ideally, this diversity will in turn generate better ideas, better solutions and a better world driven by engineers."

Students also checked out the Undergraduate Learning Center where they learned about financial aid and admissions to the University before heading home at the end of the day.