Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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Summer of STEM

Wheaton to host workshops for local middle schoolers on science, technology, engineering and math

A few weeks after most of Wheaton’s student population heads home for summer break, the campus will be bustling once again when more than 800 middle schoolers from the towns of Norton, Mansfield and Foxborough arrive for the first Tri-Town STEM Expo.

The June 5 event will feature workshops, exhibitions and a keynote talk by Scott Lynde, IT program manager at Raytheon Co., all centered on the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The goal of the expo is to expose students to various STEM areas and pathways and to make them more college and career ready,” explained Tanya Benoit, Norton Public Schools’ science academic coordinator for grades 6-12.

Benoit and representatives from Mansfield and Foxborough schools were inspired to develop a local STEM expo after they attended a similar event in 2012. Once they laid the groundwork for the project, organizers began looking for a place to host the event and reached out to Wheaton College, a fellow member of the Southeastern Massachusetts STEM Network.

“We thought it was a great opportunity for Wheaton to support public school initiatives and also to help build a population of people who are interested in STEM,” said Professor of Education Vicki Bartolini, the college's Dorothy Reed Williams Faculty Chair in the Social Sciences.

With Provost Linda Eisenmann on board and Director of Conference and Event Services Kristen Turcotte helping with logistics, Wheaton joined the effort.

The daylong event will bring fifth graders from Mansfield, sixth graders from Foxborough and seventh graders from Norton to the Wheaton campus, where they will participate in workshops such as a “whodunit” session showing students how science helps investigators solve real mysteries and a session in which students will build a water wheel to generate hydroelectric power.

Angela Guarino ’14, a native of Mansfield, Mass., designed a workshop at the expo titled “Straw Tower Challenge,” in which the middle schoolers will plan, design and create a tower out of multi-colored straws, incorporating specific elements and competing for the tallest design. She will lead the workshop with the assistance of Samantha Kaplan '17, a double major in math and education.

“The purpose of this workshop is for students to get excited about building a structure with limited materials, while considering the engineering process of design,” said Guarino, a psychology major and general education minor. “Students will be informed of what types of jobs there are that involve the engineering process.”

Wheaton faculty and educators from the three public schools, and from educational nonprofit Exploration Summer Programs (EXPLO), will lead other workshops throughout the day.

The Tri-Town STEM Expo is part of an ongoing effort to introduce science and math to students at an early age, and it enables local educators to incorporate more STEM instruction into their classrooms.

“Little kids are natural engineers, natural scientists. They have tremendous wonder and curiosity, and we’re trying to find a way to keep those alive as they go through the academic pipeline,” Bartolini said. “It’s also vital to have a comfort level and a basic knowledge of STEM as a citizen. Part of the STEM movement is to get everyone on board, to see how STEM is integral to our everyday lives and how it is important to industry, innovation and global collaboration and competition.”

The June 5 event isn’t the only STEM-related activity happening on the Wheaton campus this summer. Starting in June, the college will play host to a series of summer enrichment programs offered by EXPLO (additional sessions are offered at Wellesley College and Yale University). Students from grades 2-7 will participate in courses on everything from marshmallow building construction to hovercraft physics, as well as courses that focus on the arts and humanities.