Sul Ross State University launched its new mobile STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) lab at the San Antonio Spurs STEAM Day held Jan. 20 at the AT&T Center. STEAM stands for STEM with the addition of arts.
At the San Antonio event, students of all ages from area schools explored displays including insect identification, irrigation, a weather station and the use of drones. Other exhibits included 3D printers and building with notched cardboard discs. Students were particularly drawn to the wind energy display, as they experimented with different blade configurations to determine which ones generated the most power.
The mobile STEM lab delivers educational, hands-on, entertaining activities directly to students. The lab is the result of a collaboration between SRSU’s Noyce Scholars en la Frontera program and the Science Mill Museum in Johnson City. All components of the lab fit neatly in the van and allow for a few people to quickly set up the displays, most of which remain on carts that are wheeled into the van on its built-in ramp and then strapped into place.
At left, Gilbert Betancourt, an SRSU graduate assistant, and Dr. Jennifer Miller-Ray speak with a group of students about wind energy. SRSU photo
Dr. Jennifer Miller-Ray, assistant professor of Education, worked with Jeff Wheatcraft, director of STEM Education Growth at the Science Mill and the 2019 State of Texas Teacher of the Year, to develop curriculum for the mobile lab to take STEM activities to students in underserved, rural areas. Because students primarily live in agricultural communities, several of the displays encourage students to interact with the digital technology useful in the ag sector. Growers can access tech tools to not only determine the amount of irrigation a crop needs given climate conditions, but they can also program the irrigation system to automatically deliver the water. Drone technology gives ranchers the means to survey their acreage from the air, saving time and energy during herding, searching for strays, and determining health needs.
The mobile lab also offers future STEM teachers and graduate students the opportunity to learn how to set up and best integrate tactile technologies to engage learners in STEM and introduce future career ready skills and scientific literacies. The La Frontera Mobile STEM lab assists communities in addressing the digital divide that exists within the middle Rio Grande region and isolated Southwest Texas areas located along the Texas-Mexico border. The term “digital divide” traditionally described inequities in access to devices and broadband, but this definition fails to capture gaps in educational experiences, social, cultural, and economic realities facing so many communities located along the border.
The mobile program will benefit future STEM teachers and others by introducing future careers and digital literacies to educators, parents, college students, K12 students and the public.
“It is our hope that providing a fun experience along with resources, career awareness information, and hands-on digital learning experiences will begin to help close equity gaps and the digital divide facing our communities,” said Dr. Miller-Ray.
Once fully implemented, the lab and its staff will bridge the digital divide, traveling to communities of all sizes across the SRSU service area to enhance STEM education. Dr. Miller-Ray plans to create a booking system so organizations can apply for the mobile lab to visit their site. Until then, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Cutline: At left, Gilbert Betancourt, an SRSU graduate assistant, and Dr. Jennifer Miller-Ray speak with a group of students about wind energy. SRSU photo