STEM careers promoted at the university

Tristan Howard and his mom Cathy Howard learned the language of computer coding through a game with Lindsey Hines of the Tangipahoa Parish Library. Courtesy of Wendy Conarro

The university hosted the “STEM Café” that brought K-12th grade students and their parents to interact with local professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Hammond Youth Education Alliance President Wendy Conarro, who is also the assistant director of the university’s Math Science Upward Bound high school program, described the goal of the event.

“The concept is to have quality interactions between ​the community and local STEM professionals to promote inspiration through discovery for elementary students, hands-on career exploration in fields for middle school, and college/career conversations for high school students,” said Conarro.

The series of community STEM Cafés is sponsored by the HYEA, the university’s college of science and technology, Tangipahoa Parish School System, and the Tangi STEM Coalition.  

The inclement weather on April 14 affected the participation at the event. Conarro explained how it affected the schedule of STEM professionals who are also called STEM Stars, and the students.

“Due to the hazardous weather, four STEM Stars were not able to make it,” said Conarro. “There were 160 participants registered, but only ​about 25 percent were able to make it. A handful of families came later after the weather hazard reduced.”

However, Conarro believes the event was “thoroughly enjoyed by all from what we heard directly from participants and our STEM Stars.” 

Some of the activities featured in the event included computer coding with Tangipahoa Parish Library’s programmer Lindsey Hines, solar and wind generation with the university’s Sustainability Center’s Alex Martinez and pollution solutions with university’s Earth Science Instructor Bruce Sherman. 

The Hammond High Magnet School first robotics competition team, the Torbotics Team 2080, led the activity stations for elementary education students. There were nine STEM professionals who interacted with high school students about their career fields, and there were four STEM professionals who informed the middle school students.

Conarro shared that this is the first year of the K-12 STEM outreach event series. The event at the university was preceded with​ STEM Café’s that were held at Kentwood High School, Amite Magnet Elementary School and the Ponchatoula Community Center. She described the future plan of the event.

“Next year, the event series will be launched with a Back to School STEM Fest at Southeastern on August 25th, followed by monthly ​community STEM Cafes throughout ​the school year and throughout ​Tangipahoa Parish and including Livingston, St. Helena, and Washington Parishes,” said Conarro. “The future partners will also include Northshore Technical Community College, Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, North Oaks Health System and other local STEM related organizations who have expressed excitement about this outreach model.” 

Through the series, Conarro hopes the event will “fill the out-of-school time and space with opportunities that ignite the excitement of students and parents to pursue and excel in STEM.”