STEM class cultivates science and engineering

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Students at Deer Creek Middle School having success in competitions

The word "stem" usually conjures images of a flower or plant, but in Jeffco schools the STEM program — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — has been blossoming for the past several years.

At Deer Creek Middle School, the eighth-grade STEM class is designed to propel students into the next century. STEM students participate in future-city competitions and solar-car competitions, among others.

“Students’ participation in STEM leads them to a career field that’s in high demand where they can earn a high wage,” said Deer Creek STEM teacher Jacquie Adkins. “I have students who have participated in STEM in the past getting into colleges now based on their STEM experience in middle school.”

Students who sign up for the STEM class at Deer Creek are expected to have an intense interest in science, technology, engineering and math.  The idea is to enhance students’ knowledge and skills in subjects that are highly valued in the job market.

Adkins had her “STEMers,” as she calls them, enter the Junior Solar Sprint car competition held in May at Dakota Ridge High School. The competition is sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and features three different categories for futuristic model cars: hydrogen sprint car, lithium-ion battery sprint car, and solar sprint car. Solar cars are usually made of foam board or balsa wood and contain a solar panel connected to a motor.

Adkins’ two teams entered the solar category and the teams consisted of Deer Creek eighth-graders Kristin Farris, Lauren Froning, Jen Lanuza, Rachel Marti and Scott Strietelmeier. Team captain Kristin Farris’ car, Nose Goes, took eighth place, while Jen Lanuza’s car, A. Mr. E., took 17th out of a field of 39.

In addition to the car competition, Adkins recently took a team of three eighth-graders to the National Future City Competition in Washington, D.C. Jon Cleary, Nick Furgason and Samuel Meyer placed fourth at nationals. Their city, known as Nova Potência Rio, featured vertical farms, a world-class soccer stadium, and other iconic buildings.

“The most exciting part of making it to nationals was the opportunity to meet so many people from all over the country who are participating in the same thing you are,” Cleary said. “It was very interesting to meet professional engineers to see what their jobs are like and what my job might be like in the future.”

Furgason and Meyer competed with against than 33,000 middle school students from across the nation. Their fourth-place finish was the highest spot Deer Creek had captured in the past six years. The boys advanced to nationals after winning the regional competition in Denver in January; Deer Creek has finished first at regionals for six years in a row.

“It was a great experience because we learned how things work in a city, and it was extremely fun,” Meyer said.

“All of the teamwork and time-management skills you learn are important, because if you can’t work well with others, you won’t be able to accomplish things,” Furgason added.

In addition to the national team, Adkins coached nine teams to the regional competition, where students won awards for People’s Choice City and Best Essay, among other categories.

“I think what I’m most proud of is that these students go on to pursue STEM careers,” Adkins said.

The next STEM-related competition will be the Engineer Girl Essay, which is sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering. This year’s topic is food production engineering. Again, Adkins had two students advance as national finalists: Jen Lanuza and Cali Kub. The overall winner, who will be announced this month, will receive $500.

“I’ve realized that though people see STEM as a guy-type of class, girls are just as involved and can make just as much of a difference in the science, technology, engineering and math fields as boys do,” Lanuza said.