8th & 9th Graders participate in STEM Academy


MSC Summer STEM Academy StudentsFun hands-on activities, new friends, and a better understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics…those are just some of the things forty young people from across Oklahoma experienced at Murray State College’s Summer STEM Academy. The second year of the academy was a big success. With trips to the Noble Foundation Academy, the University Center of Southern Oklahoma, the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, and the National Fish Hatchery, each day of the academy had a full schedule.

Not only did students learn about STEM-related topics, but they were also given information on how to prepare for college.

“They had people talk to us this week about college and how to prepare for it, so that was really good,” says Kristen Nguyen, a freshman from Norman. “I’m a first child, so my parents don’t know what to do with college. My dad had a different experience because it is different now than it was back then.”

One event that had several of the students talking was the Oklahoma Museum Network Science Matters Mobile Museum. The exhibit brought the “Light Up the Night” interactive program which introduced students to science in the dark.

“The Omniplex people came and we worked with some chemistry,” says Nguyen. “This week we’ve really done a lot of physics. I’m a chemistry person, so the chemistry part of it was really fun.”

An ongoing project of the week was the Bridge Project, led by MSC Mathematics Instructor Greg Boyd. Ten teams of four students worked throughout the week under the guidance of Boyd and Josh Hlavenka, an Engineer with Amethyst Research Inc. and an adjunct math instructor and tutor at Murray State College. By the end of the academy each team designed and built a small scale bridge out of balsa wood. Students say it took time and teamwork to complete their bridges.

“We built a flat long bridge with “L” supports under it and thinner supports underneath,” says Robert Garner from Inola. “We worked on it for three days…about a total of three hours. We had lots of participation from our group.”

On the final day of the academy, two professional engineers from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation came to campus to help judge the construction of the bridges. Gene Thomas, who works in design, and Dan Knickmeyer, who works in inspection, took the official measurements for the bridges. They also took turns testing the strength of the bridges as a part of the overall judging formula.
“I am very grateful to all these guys for helping with this project and also to ODOT for sending two PE's down,” says Boyd. “The bridges were scored on Quality of Construction (12 points), Application of Engineering Principles (12 points), Aesthetics (6 points), and Strength Factor (70 points). Each judge scored each bridge on all the above categories but strength factor.”

To test the strength of the bridges, a bucket was attached to each bridge and sand was slowly poured into the bucket until the bridge collapsed. Once the bridge failed, the bucket of sand was weighed to determine the breaking weight. Breaking weights of the STEM bridges ranged from 3 pounds to 21.5 pounds. The strength factor was computed by using the breaking weight and the mass of the bridge. The bridge with the largest strength factor was given the highest score of 70, and the others were given a percentage of that based on their strength factor. Those points were added into each judge’s total and the sum of the judges’ scores was the score for the bridge. Maximum possible score was 200.

The winning bridge had a final score of 185 points, thanks in large part to a 21.5 breaking weight. Overall scores ranged from 66.2 to 185.

Boyd says he wanted to lead this project based on previous experience with it. He hopes the students take away the value of teamwork and the importance of accuracy of measurements.

“Hopefully they will ask themselves ‘why did this break, and what can I do to stop it.’ I also hope that they will look at bridges and structures and think about all the work involved with something as simple as a bridge. We drive, walk, and ride over and under these things every day and don't really think about it unless it fails,” he says.

Garner says his interest in engineering is what brought him to the STEM academy.

“I don’t know what I want to do, but I am interested in engineering,” he says. “I came here to learn about engineering…the different kinds of engineering. I learned about it.”

For more pictures visit the MSC Facebook Page.

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