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Education / STEM / Youth

Why kids love Delaware Tech’s annual hands-on STEM Expo

The biggest expo to date, this year's event got Delaware youth excited about biotech, solar energy and lasers.

The biotech display at the 2017 Delaware Tech STEM Expo. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Several middle and high school students gathered in front of a scaled-down distiller, capable of converting corn into ethanol.
“We start with this,” says Delaware Tech chemical process operator student Amanda Garzon, holding up a vial of dried corn kernels. A set of vials in front of her contain material from each step of the process: fine powder, slurry, a thick dark liquid, and, finally, crystal clear ethanol, ready to be used as fuel or an additive to gasoline.
It probably sounds less interesting than it does when you’re looking right at this complex piece of machinery as the students proudly demonstrate what they’ve learned majoring in chemical process at DelTech. And that’s the point — with dozens of hands-on displays, the annual DelTech STEM Expo shows kids that these fields are exciting instead of simply telling them.

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The chemical process display at the STEM Expo. (Photo by Holly Quinn)


In the case of chemical process, there is a shortage of people with the skills needed in the field, as well as a shortage of students applying to the department, according to DelTech’s STEM program manager, Linda Grusenmeyer. As a result, virtually all of the graduates of the two-year associate program are able to find well-paying jobs, sometimes even before they graduate.
Factor in the DelTech SEED program, which offers free tuition to Delaware high school graduates who stay out of trouble and earn at least a 2.5 GPA, and you can see why the Expo is attracting more and more middle and high school kids every year.

The biggest STEM Expo yet

The fourth annual STEM Expo, held Thursday evening on the Stanton Campus in Newark, had the biggest turnout yet, says Grusenmeyer.
The Expo addresses the growing need for future college graduates with STEM degrees — whether the two-year associate’s degree DelTech offers or a four-year (or more) degree for students who transfer over to a university to continue their education. The event’s importance is evidenced by its financial sponsors, the State of Delaware, AstraZeneca and The National Science Foundation.
Getting kids interested in STEM can be a challenge when the concepts are just words. “People talk about STEM,” says event director and environmental engineering technology instructor Amy Mann, “but unless you can really get your hands on it and really play with it, you don’t necessarily realize how fun it is.”
Exhibits are designed to be 5 to 8 minutes long and are interactive. Experiments are designed and run by Delaware Tech students under faculty support. The students, many on the edge of moving on to the next level, be it a job or continuing education, are enthusiastic and a bit competitive about their chosen fields, which only adds to the excitement.

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Energy management student Benjamin Persondeck shows off a solar panel display. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Energy for the future

Energy management student Benjamin Persondeck switches on the “sun” in the exhibit “Solar Panels, Light Bulbs, and Wind Turbines, Oh My!” and explains how solar power works. As he switches on three solar-powered light bulbs one at a time, a middle school student reads the power meter to compare energy usage between different types of light bulbs.
When he demonstrates the warmly glowing LED light bulb that uses just one-sixth of the energy of an incandescent bulb, he places his hand on it. “It doesn’t get hot,” he says and encourages the student to touch it herself. She hesitates to touch it, it looks so nearly identical to the incandescent.
Energy management students are the ones who will be working on energy solutions for the future, whether it’s expanding renewable energy like solar power, improving heating and cooling or perfecting the LED.

A rock ‘n’ roll laser show

What better way to demonstrate fiber optics technology to high schoolers than with music, lasers and dry ice smoke? At the electronics engineering exhibit, student Juan Gomez runs music from a phone through a red laser beam and explains that this is the same process that delivers all kinds of data, from bluetooth to WiFi to cell phones. Kids are allowed to wave their hands in front of the laser, stopping the music from reaching the speaker. Their interest seems to increase as a puff of dry ice illuminates the beam.

Mapping DNA

Biotechnology students Rebecca and Felix wear white lab coats and demonstrate how DNA is examined. Those forensic scientists helping to solve murder cases from a lab on TV got their start as biotechnology students, which makes the demonstration, which involves transferring (faux) samples from vials to special plates, as exciting as laser beams. It’s not all crime solving and paternity tests, though — Rebecca explains that biotechnology is also a vital part of medical research.

Chemical

The Chemistry Department’s display. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

From “mad science” to medical research

The Chemistry Department offered experiments straight out of a cartoon scientist lab, including the amusing chemical reaction that creates what’s called “elephant toothpaste” and an acid vs. base experiment that creates a liquid rainbow in a tube. Real world applications of chemistry are less “mad”: chemistry student Takudzwa Makota plans to continue his education toward career in medicine, and notes that some of his classmates will go directly into medical research jobs once obtaining their associate degrees.

Companies: Delaware Technical Community College

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