STEM clubs and departments assemble to make fields interesting and accessible.
By James Dusek
Grinning like a magician from his seat behind the natural sciences booth, chemistry Professor Krishnan Madappat held up an apparently empty wine glass and a bottle of water.
He could turn water into wine using chemistry, he said.
Madappat poured some water into the glass and gave it a little swirl. Slowly, a deep red color rose from the stem of the glass, turning the water a light pink.
Students and faculty from science, technology, engineering and math departments gathered Wednesday in the mall for the “STEMulate Science Showcase” hosted by this college’s Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement Center.
“The goal of the showcase is to bring science out into the mall so that our students can interact with it, learn about it, ask questions about it and get engaged in the sciences,” said Dee Dixon, MESA Center coordinator.
Madappat got visitors engaged with his water-to-wine exhibit. His trick? The water contained baking soda; the glass, a chemical known as phenolphthalein. When combined, the colorless liquid chemical reacted with the heightened pH level of the water, turning the mixture pink.
Events like the showcase give STEM students and faculty, whose fields may seem intimidating to some, an opportunity to show students a more engaging and nuanced view of the fields.
When students showcase their work, they bring science to life, Dixon said.
“People can see science in real-world application,” she said. “It helps people to understand the role that science plays in our world, and they can also see that it’s not as intimidating as science may seem.”
Visibly excited students displayed projects and talked with passers-by about space, robots, fossils and vehicles.
Engineering sophomores Julio Banda and Irene Salazar enthusiastically shared their experiences as electrical leads on a hydrogen fuel-cell car project, and spending hundreds of hours designing and building the science fiction-esque vehicle.
“This past summer, we finally got to test-run it,” said Banda, also president of this college’s Mexican American Engineers & Scientists organization. “And it worked. … It was the best feeling ever.”
Students visiting the Society of Women Engineers’ booth attempted with varying success to erect structures strong enough to support a water bottle out of copies of The Ranger and packing tape.
The SWE’s main attraction was a small robot — a contraption of metal, PVC pipe and two small plastic bins — they built to monitor the conditions inside shipping containers used to grow plants.
The club also spread information about a windmill project they are working on.
Faculty from several departments were present as well, with fervor equal to that of the students.
“I am very passionate about (helping students),” said computer information systems Professor David Acosta. “I promised my mom and I promised my wife I would do everything in my power to make sure that these students succeeded.”
While explaining the CIS program, Acosta would wave or say hello to students he recognized — from his program, or who he’s been trying to recruit for some time. He would ask them how their classes are going, and talk about how intelligent they are before returning to his topic.
“If I didn’t believe in this, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Acosta said.
MAES, SWE and other STEM organizations and projects around campus are always looking for interested students.
For more information, visit the MESA center in Room 204 of Chance Academic Center.