January 26, 2018

2018 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

STEM plants roots of ‘cool’ learning in New Albany Deanery

In this photo from June 28, 2016, Laura Swessel, a science teacher at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville, works with fourth‑through sixth-graders participating in the school’s summer STEM Camp, which is open to all students in the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo)

In this photo from June 28, 2016, Laura Swessel, a science teacher at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville, works with fourth‑through sixth-graders participating in the school’s summer STEM Camp, which is open to all students in the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Laura Swessel, a high school science teacher at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville, knows the importance of STEM fields first hand—she used to own an engineering consulting firm.

“Just working in a manufacturing environment now, you have to have some familiarity with computers, either on the user or the programming side,” she notes. “Regardless of what field you go into, the critical thinking you gain from STEM helps you with any field you end up in.”

To provide students with more hands‑on STEM experiences, Swessel started STEM summer camps in 2016 for youths throughout the New Albany Deanery in first grade through ninth grade.

During the camps, which are broken down by grade ranges, participants take part in projects ranging from basic computer coding and making a volcano to creating a storm-proof house—which she tests against a leaf blower she calibrated to simulate category one through four hurricanes.

To accommodate those on the summer camp waiting list, Swessel created a STEM club to meet five times during the school year. More than 110 students participated last spring.

Both the STEM club and the camp include visits by professionals in those fields. Among those who spoke to the youths were a dentist, an aerospace engineer, an electrical engineer, an emergency room director and a statistician.

In addition to getting students excited about STEM fields, Swessel uses the camp and club as an opportunity for high school students to serve as helpers. Not only do the older teens get experience mentoring, but it helps kids to see “it’s cool” to like STEM fields, she says.

Fourth-grader Lydia Cosper says she likes to learn about “my interests such as chain reactions, engineering, and freestyle math,” while fifth-grader Matt Wetzel says he “love[s] being able to experiment with creating my own video games.” Both are members of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg and attend the parish school.

And being deanery-wide and open to non‑Catholics, the camp and club allow students to meet youths from other schools.

“I like meeting new people from throughout the deanery,” says Ginger Atzinger, a member of Holy Family Parish in New Albany who attends sixth grade at the parish school. “I love learning about the importance of STEM and how it affects how we live, and I like having something to look forward to after school.” †

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