Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Highlighting Frostburg State University’s role as a leader in Appalachia is a priority of our current administration. The university provides opportunities that aren’t as easily accessible to many schools in our area, to the point that schools from over an hour away will drive to FSU so students can experience college-level laboratories and equipment along with our state-of-the-art Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium.

This is a standard release, getting an alumnus who took one of his classes on a tour as nice touch but I’m pretty happy with the photo of a demonstration by academic laboratory manager Blaire Knouse.

Originally published: 02/16/2017

Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Frostburg State University is becoming a growing resource for science, technology, education and mathematics – STEM – education for public schools in Appalachia through a growing outreach program.

The program has matured over the years, originating with school visits with science experiments and portable telescopes from the FSU Planetarium. Today, students from as far as Gambrills, Md., and Aurora, W.Va., are taking field trips to FSU’s facilities for a day of engagement and inspiration in STEM fields.

During a recent visit, Mountain Ridge High School students saw how elements respond to fire and other interactions in the Bayer MaterialSciences Chemistry Laboratory. Other classes have made their own scented lotions in a laboratory and younger groups have tested the physics of flight using their own paper airplanes.

The outreach program grew from 1,300 students visiting in the 2014-2015 academic year, to 1,600 in 2015-2016 – an 18 percent increase – and is on pace to eclipse that mark this academic year, said Dr. William Seddon, FSU professor of biology and STEM outreach coordinator. The bulk of the schools visiting are from rural areas of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland, with the intention of expanding to more schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The visit is free – all schools need to do is provide transportation and contact Seddon to schedule a field trip.

“We’re offering a free field trip and some of these schools around here don’t have a lot of resources,” Seddon said, adding the importance to provide access to higher education opportunities in rural areas.

The experiences are tailored to each grade in school, whether it’s explaining basic concepts, completing interactive experiments and demonstrations or inspiring students for potential careers and majors in STEM fields, Seddon said. Fourth through sixth grades are a critical time when students decide whether they like STEM subjects and activities and whether they will pursue that interest in school and in life.

“The idea is to get them to understand that science is fun – it certainly is interesting but it can be fun,” Seddon said.

FSU’s quality STEM facilities have equipment not found in high schools, providing students, their parents and teachers their first time being exposed to high-tech equipment.

“Some of the teachers may never have been here, so we get the teachers exposed to the university,” Seddon said. ”We have kids who are coming here who never set foot on this campus.”

David Buskirk is a fifth-grade teacher at Cash Valley Elementary School in Cumberland and recently took his students to FSU for a STEM day focusing on careers. As an alumnus who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FSU, he knows the value of FSU’s facilities and faculty. The visit helps Buskirk meet the new Next Generation Science Standards by having students do collaborative and project-based learning in FSU laboratories.

“I think it’s amazing in our small area that we have a university like Frostburg State that is easily accessible for public school teachers and students to use,” Buskirk said. “Not many communities in a rural area have an opportunity like that.”

The program extends beyond the 20 faculty and staff members shaping the experience. FSU College of Education students are also developing new lesson plans for the Natural History Museum at FSU to keep the experiences fresh, Seddon added. The Natural History Museum houses animal specimens from all over the world.

Student organizations are all helping out with the programs, too, including Student Members of the American Chemical Society, National Society for Black Engineers, TriBeta Biology Honor Society and more.

Teachers choose experiences from topics in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, geography and earth science, mathematics and computer science/information technology. Field trips can also include touring the Natural History Museum, the state-of-the-art FSU Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium, plus the Sustainable Energy Research Facility.

School groups interested in scheduling a STEM experience to FSU should contact Seddon at 301-687-4707 or wseddon@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

FSU is committed to making all of its programs, services and activities accessible to persons with disabilities. To request accommodations through the ADA Compliance Office, call 301-687-4102 or use a Voice Relay Operator at 1-800-735-2258.

 

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