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Ohio State Newark program engineers a connection between middle schoolers, STEM

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​A group of students lean on a table in LeFevre Hall at Ohio State Newark to discuss which setting for the solar panel would be the most efficient on Jan. 14. Credit: Hailey Stangebye | Lantern Reporter

Maverick Anderson and more than 50 young colleagues in Kids Tech University sat in LeFevre Hall on the Ohio State Newark campus on Jan. 14 and experimented to find which wind turbine blade position and pitch would generate the most energy the most efficiently.

“I think three light blues would be best, actually, on this machine, as is,” said Anderson, an 11-year-old participant in KTU as he analyzed the assortment of wind turbine blades on the table.

KTU is designed to expose kids ages 9 through 12 to STEM studies in a university setting. It’s an opportunity for kids to answer questions with the help of real scientists, said Rori Leath, the STEM director for elementary at The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art and Technology.

“Each session is phrased as a question for the students, so that they can understand that the session that we’re doing is actually going to provide them information about why that works and how that works,” she said.

The program has a number of other advantages in addition to kindling an interest in STEM studies and being an energetic, open environment for questioning minds, Leath said.

“The other goals are actually getting the students on campus and talking to faculty, professors, you know, being exposed to a college campus atmosphere and seeing that they have those college campuses available right here, in their backyard,” Leath said.

The program aims to show kids and parents that a college education in a STEM field is both exciting and achievable, she said.

It also comes in an era of rising tuition costs that can affect students as young as Anderson.

“I want to get a degree in computer science, but I also want to get a degree in culinary (arts), so I have no idea which one to choose,” Anderson said. “Also, I don’t know if I’m going to get a degree at all. It takes a very long time and a lot of money to get a degree in college. So you’re going to have to save up for a long time, pretty much your whole life, to pay off half your college loans.”

KTU also aims to ease the fears about the rising cost of a college education by providing information sessions and informative talks for parents on scholarship and sponsorship opportunities.

“So not only are we exposing children, but we bring their parents to campus as well, and their parents go through the Explore College sessions,” Leath said. “We’re helping parents understand how to prepare their child for college.”

This is the fourth year of Kids Tech University in central Ohio. The Works partners with both OSU Newark and Denison University, about 30 miles east of Columbus, to create these sessions.

Surveys taken at the time of reservation and upon a student’s exit from the program have shown an increase in interest in STEM studies, Leath said.

“We’re seeing a pretty good return rate in the kids for students that want to be involved in the program,” Leath said. “Last year we did a math session and we saw a big increase in their interest in math. We always see a pretty large increase in their interest in engineering.”

Above all, the student participants, like Anderson, were engaged in the learning experience of how to conduct an experiment as they posited questions and performed experiments.

“You want to test it again?” said a college student helper to Anderson, gesturing to the collection of turbine blades.

Anderson reached for his blades to test his theory.

“Yeah, but I get to put them on,” he said.

The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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