JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Stefanie Shiels, Ph.D., a staff scientist at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, believes that school students have to be exposed to STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, at a young age – regardless of the time of day – even if it means at 6 o’clock in the morning.
And that’s exactly what she did. She organized a community outreach engagement with middle school students at the St. Matthew Catholic School in San Antonio. The fourth- through eighth-grade students’ STEM club meets at 6 a.m. before the start of school.
“I believe that it’s important that we interact with students at this age and keep them interested in science,” she said.
Shiels, along with postdoctoral fellows Josh Avila, Lauren Mangum, Christine Kowalczewski and Ph.D. candidate Jessica Juarez engaged 46 students with a variety of topics including the human skeleton and DNA extraction.
“It’s good to see kids at this age interested in STEM,” Avila said. "These students are dedicated to this club, especially since they meet early in the morning before classes begin.”
Shiels enjoyed interacting with the students. She recalls having guests attend her school when she was their age and how much she enjoyed it.
“I was always excited about science fair days and having special guests,” she said. “They made science fun and that’s what we did. We showed them that science is not a tedious or boring thing, that it’s fun.”
Mangum believes that age-specific hands-on activities are important, as well as one-on-one interaction.
“I remember having fun as a kid and learning about science from others,” Mangum said. “Now, it’s good that young students see us as young scientists with different backgrounds. It lets them know that it is fun and that they can also do it.”
“This is our passion,” Avila said. “It’s fulfilling to share our passion and hopefully pass it on to them.”