• Seals, CO2 and Solar Panels: Baylor celebrates STEM Day at local schools

    Dr. Sarah Kienle teaches science to students at Waco's J.H. Hines Elementary School

    Dr. Sarah Kienle, a nationally recognized Baylor biology professor, makes a big statement about the fourth graders she spoke to on National STEM Day last week: “They’re asking the same questions I’m asking in my research.” As the students interacted with Kienle and her students, they validated just that.

    Kienle was part of a cohort of Baylor professors who visited local schools for National STEM Day, discussing topics like leopard seals, air quality, solar power and more. Students at J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Connally High School interacted with Baylor faculty and students through hands-on, interactive presentations that made high-level college research accessible, with the hopes of sparking an interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) among the next generation.

    Baylor partnered with Transformation Waco and Connally ISD to highlight the day, spark curiosity about STEM topics, and discover new topics they could study in college. This year’s STEM Day activities included:

    — Kienle’s leopard seal lessons to fourth graders at J.H. Hines Elementary School, in which students learned about the feeding and behavior of leopard seals, measured inflatable seals just like Kienle does with live seals in Antarctica, read their markings, and more.

    — At G.W. Carver Middle School, Dr. Lulin Jiang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Yang Li, assistant professor of environmental science, worked with students to visualize the impact of pollution around them. As an introduction to climate science, students blew into dyed water to see the effects of CO2 and learned about work taking place in their community; Jiang and Li are part of a $1 million project to partner with the City of Waco to reduce pollutants and convert waste into energy at Waco’s Hannah Hill Landfill.

    Dr. Sascha Usenko, professor of environmental science, took solar panels, CO2 meters and more to Connally High School to show students the impact of fossil fuels and air pollution. Connally students worked with Usenko’s students outside to measure air quality, see how solar panels work, and use the same equipment Usenko utilizes in his research.

    As Kienle said of the fourth graders at J.H. Hines, students at each school found themselves asking the same questions as the scientists they may someday be. And whether they go to Baylor or not, they might someday want to follow these professor’s footsteps into the lab.

    “I always encourage my students that they can go to college, and it’s exciting for students to actually see that they can do it as well,” said Scherrie Jones, a fourth grade teacher at J.H. Hines. “They can have access to science, and it gives them the chance to set personal goals.”

    Sic ’em, National STEM Day!