Carlin’s STEM Program Enthralls Students
By Dianna Troyer
At Carlin Combined School, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) could easily stand for Science That’s Entertaining and Magical.
Students have entertained themselves making gooey s’mores in solar ovens they built with a pizza box and foil. They programmed a robot that carried out their invisible commands. Tapping instructions on a keyboard, a flight simulator whisked them skyward.
“We get so excited about STEM and so do the students,” says math teacher Janie Kimble, one of two teachers who lead Carlin’s STEM Club for junior high and high school students. “Sometimes we pinch ourselves and can’t help but giggle and laugh at seeing students’ excitement.”
Janie and science teacher Melissa Jones launched the STEM Club in 2015. Melissa is one of six educators recognized as a 2018 Nevada STEM Teacher of the Year. She bought a flight simulator with the $1,000 award that came with the honor.
“We’re really fortunate to have support from teachers, administrators, businesses, parents and national STEM educators,” Melissa says. “It fuels our fires and lets us know we’re on the right track. We’re passionate about giving students experiences that will open up opportunities for them.”
The STEM Club has provided opportunities for students to tour a college campus, simulate a trip to Mars, go indoor skydiving, and understand the engineering behind Las Vegas shows like Tournament of Kings and David Copperfield.
“Providing students with those unforgettable educational memories keeps my passion high,” Melissa says.
She attributes her enthusiasm for the STEM Club to memories of field trips with her Carlin High School science teacher Steve Feasel.
“The best lessons aren’t always learned within a classroom’s four walls,” she says.
Janie says she and Melissa were inspired to launch the club after Janie got to work closely with Department of Defense research scientists during a two-week Joint Science and Technology Institute for teachers and students in Maryland.
“It energized my passion to inspire students about STEM careers,” Janie says.
The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Outreach Division hosts the institute, and Janie returns every summer to mentor other teachers. In the past four years, six Carlin students have attended, and Janie says she’s waiting to hear if local students will be accepted again this year.
When Janie told two colleagues who supervise the institute about Carlin’s STEM program, they wanted to see what was developing in a tiny school of 300 students nestled in northern Nevada’s remote sagebrush steppe. In February, they flew thousands of miles to participate in Carlin’s STEM Fest.
The event attracted more than 400 people, including students, educators, parents and businesses involved with STEM professions.
Wells Rural Electric Company’s booth featured careers at the co-op, including electrical engineering and working as a lineman.
“With community support, Janie and Melissa have created a STEM oasis out of a desert,” says Darnell Gardner, STEM Action Officer in the Research and Development Directorate at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in Virginia. “It was impressive that the community came to support the event despite the adverse weather. We came because we’re committed to supporting teachers and inspiring their students to become a new generation of leaders who will consider STEM professions.”
Darnell was joined by Jennifer Casey, STEM program manager at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in Tennessee. They set up a booth to show how viruses spread and how a biological threat from terrorists would be handled.
“Carlin’s STEM Club offers unparalleled opportunities for students to engage in handson learning activities, hear from experts in the field and conduct experiments with their peers,” Jennifer says. “The Fest ignited the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm about STEM disciplines as potential careers.”
STEM Club members exhibited a robot they built and programmed. Senior John Gamble and freshman Miranda Rainville explained how robots work and taught eager parents and students to drive them.
“The club has made me interested in careers dealing with software, mechanical and medical engineering,” Miranda says.
Nine Carlin students competed in the state championship of FIRST Tech Challenge’s Rover Ruckus in Las Vegas February 8-9. Teams were judged and awarded points based on how they designed, built and programmed a robot to perform tasks in an autonomous and driver-operated mode. They
named their robot BOB for Bucket of Bolts.
“This was their rookie year, and they did great,” Melissa says.
Carlin students designed their robot to lower itself and put an object in a specific area in autonomous mode. In driver mode, a student had the robot pick up materials and place them on a lander, then latched the robot to the lander.
“We made our robot strong enough to lift itself off the ground and pick up objects using its claw,” says sophomore Christopher George.
The STEM Club received a $2,900 grant from Tesla’s Education Gift Fund Investment, enabling students to compete in Rover Ruckus for five years.
This spring, STEM Club members will show their gratitude for the community support they’ve received when they present their projects to the school board, elementary school students and sponsors, including the Carlin Booster Club.
They plan to talk about their work in robotics and the club’s aeronautics program. Melissa and Janie received a $2,000 grant from the national Voya Unsung Heroes competition in 2017 to pay for their program, “STEM Gives You Wings!”
Through simulations and other activities, the program introduces students to the science of aeronautics and flight through problem-based learning
experiences. They learn about engineering design and examples of new aircraft technology dealing with reduced noise pollution and increased fuel efficiency.
“There are so many STEM careers available to students, many that never existed when we were their age,” Janie says. “Our club’s diverse activities
give them hope that they can attain their lofty dreams of being a doctor, astronaut or scientist. The sky’s the limit for their futures.”