Mentoring for Science Technology, Engineering, and Math

By Coral Tily

EPA researchers Cheryl Brown and Christina Folger were among the 45 volunteer science mentors that offered technical assistance to elementary school students preparing for the Newport Science Fair in Newport, Oregon. This science fair is one of the Oregon coast’s many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities.

Lydia Miller with Anastasia in front of the poster of Lydia’s group – influence of soil composition and retention

Lydia Miller with Anastasia Kaldy in front of the poster of Lydia’s group – influence of soil composition and retention

Students at Newport area elementary schools conducted experiments, gathered data, and compiled results. On January 21, the students shared their scientific discoveries with the public at a Science Fair held at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, home to one of EPA’s Western Ecology Division research laboratories.

The science mentors visited the classrooms regularly to assist the students with their investigations. Over 800 students from 33 classrooms at Sam Case and Yaquina View Elementary Schools in Newport participated; each class was matched with one or more science mentors. Oregon Sea Grant and volunteer coordinators organize the Science Fair in partnership with the schools. Cheryl and Christina (in her 5th year volunteering as a mentor) worked at Sam Case Elementary School, helping to develop and conduct experiments investigating plant growth and factors influencing soil permeability.

Science Fair participant : Anastasia Kaldy in front of her group’s project – effects of soil types

Anastasia Kaldy in front of her group’s project – effects of soil types

Cheryl’s class tested the effect of different factors on plant growth and survival.  Each group came up with their own factor/hypothesis that they tested.  Factors selected included the effect of salt, detergent, soda vs diet soda, Gatorade, effect of soil type (dirt, sand, and coffee), if plants could grow on ramen noodles, and the effect of burning plant leaves, as some of the boys just wanted to burn something.

Christina’s class worked with how different soil composition influences water retention. Students used different materials (sand, clay, pine needles, pebbles, etc.) to create multiple soil treatments in plastic cups with holes in the bottom for drainage.  They ‘made it rain’ on the cups several times over the two week period and recorded the weight of each cup at specific times after the “rain” to see which combination of materials retained the most water.

The event was a great experience for students and mentors alike. It showed the promise of making the connection between working scientists and young people in science, technology, engineering, and math activities.

About the Author: Information services specialist Coral Tily wrote this post in cooperation with Cheryl Brown (oceanographer), Christina Folger (marine ecologist), and Joan Hurley (senior environmental employment grantee).

Read “Science Fair A Big Success,” an article about the Newport Science Fair in the local paper

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