Alex Heldrich, Reporter
On May 20, tables from colleges and clubs, complex gadgets and displays filled the College Center for the STEM expo. Nearby colleges that specialize in STEM programs came to advertise their college and gave students information on how to apply.
Pierce College Puyallup clubs also had tables at the event. Some were there to provide information to students and recruit them to their club while others, such as Math Club, demonstrated activities from their clubs.
A member of Math Club performed a trick for students using a deck of cards. Afterwards, he revealed the mathematical equation behind his actions.
The Tacoma Astronomical Society was also at the STEM Expo. This club has existed since 1931. It’s the second oldest astronomical club in the nation and oldest in the state.
Inside the CTR a was table setup for students to get information about the society and make their own rocket. A member instructed students how to make ‘stomp rockets’ out of paper, cardboard, tape and paperclips. Once the rockets were finished, students got to go outside and launch their rockets across the courtyard field.
“We do our public nights over at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom,” TAS president Matt Flood said. “Coming up, we’re going to a preschool. The stomp rockets that we do are a real hit for the kids. We go to a lot of libraries and elementary schools. We’ve done damn near everything, every conceivable location we’ve probably done. We do three outreach programs a month like the STEM expo and then we have our general meetings.”
The TAS also had two telescopes set up for students to view the sun. This type of telescope requires highly specialized and expensive equipment to make a safe, clear image.
“There’s several hundred dollars in each toy that we’ve got,” Flood said. “Several hundreds (invested) in each part, actually. One toy has one sole purpose of just looking at the sun, you can’t even see the moon with it.”
Club member Day Jackson said that joining the TAS was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“My daughters made me get a telescope and when I went to go get lenses for it, the camera shop pointed me towards the club,” Jackson said. “I wish that I would’ve done that before I bought a telescope, but luckily I had bought a good telescope from the camera shop. I started going in 2008. For the money, it’s a darn good show.”
The TAS hosts public night for club members and community members to learn about astronomy and look at “space stuff”, Jackson said.
“I mainly just do public nights and some of the others go to star parties, but I haven’t talked my wife into going to any star parties yet,” Jackson said. “There’s a star party in Goldendale, where one of our members has property. We’re setting up to go there for the eclipse next year.”
Many members in the club are passionate about what they do. They invest thousands of dollars into their telescopes and other equipment.
“It’s kind of like somebody who owns a racecar like, ‘do you want to have a 327 Chevy or 426 Hemi?” Flood said. “If you’ve really got to have that Hemi and you’ve got enough money to spend on it, then you’ve really got to have those fancy tires. Telescopes are like the same thing.”
As well as general meetings, the TAS also has a student club. The members of this club range in age from five to 18. Some of them move onto the adult club while others go off to college, Flood said. Two of the TAS’s student club members have gone on to pursue advanced degrees in astronomy.
Running Start student Marcus Kaiser is a member of the TAS student club as well as Pierce’s Astronomy Club. He plans to major in aerospace engineering with a minor in astronomy after he graduates from Pierce.
“I’d recommend that those interested in STEM use the Internet to try and find some opportunities near them,” Kaiser said. “I love science, but I’ve had some science classes that I’ve legitimately hated because they teach the scientific method completely wrong with science projects.”
According to studyinthestates.dhs.gov, in recent years many schools have been pushing students more towards STEM programs because too few college students are choosing it as their major.
“Because STEM has exploded within the last three or four years, there’s a lot more emphasis on it,” Flood said. “By and large, the state of the art teaching of science is horrifyingly bad so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. The STEM programs should help that and at the lowest level possible to start them off.”
Flood strongly believes that STEM programs are vital for students to learn and for the fate of the country.
“Science education in this country has become like an afterthought, but it needs to come back to the forefront,” Flood said. “You need some basic science to help you in every single thing in life. How are you going to figure out how your self driving car works if you don’t even know any basic science? Hopefully we won’t have to rely on a bunch of smart people at Google and Microsoft to run the world for us.”
To fix this problem, Flood proposes that schools need to stop teaching science classes out of the textbook because that method of teaching takes the enthusiasm out of young students.
“Kids are naturally inquisitive and want to learn stuff and do stuff,” Flood said. “Unfortunately, I think our educational system suppresses that so well that by the time that they’re getting ready to begin college classes, the enthusiasm is all gone. It turns into, ‘I need this piece of paper for my appointment’ and ‘I’ll do the minimum,’ rather than ‘this is exciting and I really want to do this.’”
Events like the STEM Expo help cultivate an interest in students before they decide on a major. By showing them the interesting equipment and hands-on activities that come with these fields of work and education, it helps to form an enthusiasm about the field.