UNH STEM Discovery Lab: Yeah, this STEM stuff is hot these days, and here’s why

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Students creating their own apps at the STEM Discovery Lab
Students creating their own apps at the STEM Discovery Lab. IMAGE/UNHM

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When you are immersed in something, it’s sometimes easy to forget that your world is not necessarily everyone else’s. My boss told me recently that her mom called and said, “Hey, this STEM stuff is really hot these days.” My boss has been doing “this STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) stuff” for years.

“See? My own family members don’t always understand,” my boss told me. “That’s why it’s important for me to keep doing this work – to spread awareness. I want to inspire teachers and provide opportunities for the next generation.”

But I could relate to her mom. January marks a year in my position as STEM Discovery Lab coordinator at the University of New Hampshire Manchester. I have a background in teaching English learners, and while I did teach STEM content, it wasn’t always my main focus. I’ve spent the last year reading every article I can, picking the brains of experts, learning new skills, and gobbling up information about trends.

It’s not difficult to see why STEM is hot. It’s a workforce development issue. Many companies are desperate for employees educated in STEM fields. It’s one of the primary reasons the STEM Discovery Lab, which runs professional development and youth programs in partnership with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, was created.

It’s also an equity issue. Although improving, statistics all point to the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields. The STEM Discovery Lab’s priority to reach underrepresented populations makes me passionate about my work. To me, STEM education is about equity, building community, and providing access to opportunities and information.

Students at a Seaperch program
Students at a Seaperch program. IMAGE/UNHM

Sometimes that happens in very nontraditional ways. My favorite stories from my first year on the job both started at Market Basket on Elm Street. (I love going there because I almost always run into someone I know.) On one occasion I ran into a former student from the UNH Manchester Adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Summer Program in which I taught. Since that day, she brought her two sons to our fall 4-H Science Bonanza and has become a trained STEM Docent, connecting her to – and enriching the members of – a larger community.

Another time, I ran into the mother of two boys who attended our EXCELL in STEM: Educational Excellence for English Learners program. Her boys are passionate about science, and I was able to personally share information on upcoming opportunities. Her boys will be attending another program, fueling their passion as they continue to learn English.

As we continue to work on connecting people to this “STEM stuff,” we want to share STEM-related stories that will inform and inspire you and maybe connect you to a larger community. Next up is a profile of three young women who saw the gender gap in technology and decided to do something about it. Have an idea for a topic? Communicate with us on Facebook and Twitter @UNHSTEMlab.

emilykerrIn her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.

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