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NECC Partners with LHS to Get Students Excited About STEM Fields

Submitted by on February 18, 2015 – 6:52 pm
Photos by Mike Dean

LHS students Haniel Aquino, Luis Garcia and Manneury Arias

Last semester, one Friday per month, a group of area high school students met at Northern Essex Community College’s 420 Common Street Building in Lawrence to participate in advanced technological experiments. The meetings were just one aspect of the college’s STEM Starter Academy Program aimed at getting students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields.

The STEM Starter Academy began on the Lawrence campus last fall as an after-school educational workshop series for high school students. The program is part of a larger STEM Starter grant, awarded to NECC by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, that fulfills the needs of local students who are interested in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics but lack adequate preparation to excel in these subjects. Additional grant funds will support classroom technology upgrades, retention scholarships, mentorships, and other pertinent STEM services and programs.

NECC’s STEM Starter Academy workshop series focused on offering computational thinking and problem-solving activities. All workshops took place in the labs at NECC’s recently-renovated 420 Common Street Building, a space that features advanced computer classrooms and state-of-the-art equipment.

In a recent workshop, organized by Ethel Schuster, professor of computer science, technology, and engineering at NECC, Raisa CarrascoVelez, special assistant of community, family, and student engagement at Lawrence Public Schools, and Carlos Cordero, LHS guidance counselor, students learned programming using Artbotics cars from NECC Professor Michael Penta.

During the workshop, students were asked to design a driving pattern for the test cars and to write a program that would achieve the pattern. By the end, and after learning about motors and computational loop concepts, students had successfully programmed Artbotics cars.

“Before the STEM Program I never thought I could be a programmer, but I was able to walk away feeling like I can do this,” said one student after having successfully completed the programming project. “I like that we get to take STEM classes at the college. It makes the experience a lot better.”

Ethel Schuster says that the goal in offering STEM Starter workshops is to increase student awareness of and access to STEM academic programs and career opportunities. “We hope to acquaint students with technology by encouraging them to be active participants in activities that would engage them,” she explains. This boost will better prepare students for future success in STEM fields.

So far efforts have proven immensely successful. “The students were involved and focused throughout the entire time,” Schuster says, reflecting on the workshop. “That says it all.”

For more information, contact Dr. Ethel Schuster, or 978 655-5811.