Gallery Walk will showcase growth in county STEM programs
— For most students, this Wednesday’s STEM Capstone Gallery Walk represents the final step in the months-long process of developing their capstone project.
But for Elkton High School senior Zainab Hayat, there’s at least one more step to go.
Next month, Hayat, 17, will present her capstone at the national level of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition in North Carolina. Hayat already won
at the state level of the competition for designing and developing a water filter made out of inexpensive, recycled materials. A win at the national level would earn her the right to travel to Stockholm and compete for the $15,000 grand prize.
Hayat’s family has roots in Pakistan. She got a chance to visit the country in 2014, and the trip was an eyeopening experience, she said.
“In this country we take water for granted, but it’s not like that everywhere,” said Hayat, who plans to study biological sciences at the University of Maryland College Park next year. “That’s why I wanted to make a water filter out of inexpensive materials.”
Hayat’s project is just one of 89 projects that will be displayed as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Capstone Gallery Walk held at Elkton High at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. More than 90 students in the county’s STEM Academy and in the Project Lead the Way Engineering and
Biomedical programs will have their work on display, said Christine Zatalava, Cecil County Public Schools STEM instructional coordinator.
Students apply to enter the STEM Academy at the end of their freshman year and over the next three years complete a rigorous curriculum of 10 advanced math and science credits and a capstone project.
The program has seen enormous growth since 14 students from two schools became the county’s first graduates in 2011. Last year, 47 students from all five high schools completed the program and this year that number jumped to 74. The program also just admitted a class of 103 freshmen, Zatalava added.
“The good news is we have more students,” she said. “But that comes with some challenges.”
Some of those challenges are straightforward – next year’s gallery walk will likely be too big to be held at Elkton High – while others are more complex. About two years ago, the STEM Academy was altered so students had the option of starting their capstone projects in their junior year instead of their senior year, Zatalava said.
This has worked well because it allows student to use their capstone when applying to college and gives them time to find outside competitions – such as the one Hayat is competing in – to enter. But for students who start early and want to continue working on their project through their senior year, there’s no continuing research class for them to take for credit yet, Zatalava said. CCPS is currently discussing ways to change this.
Every student in the program also gets at least one mentor to guide them through the capstone process and the program is always in need of more mentors to pair up with its growing number of students, Zatalava added.
Though CCPS works hard to recruit mentors for the projects, some students find mentors on their own.
Elkton High junior Austin Gleason fractured the right growth plate in his wrist during a mountain biking accident last August. He used that experience as inspiration for his capstone project – and asked his orthopedic doctor to be his mentor.
Shortly after hurting his wrist, Gleason went on vacation with his family in the Blue Ridge mountains. During that time his cast frequently got hot, sweaty and generally uncomfortable. So for his capstone, Gleason decided to design a 3-D printed insert to increase airflow in orthopedic casts.
Gleason’s doctor, Dr. El- liott Leitman of First State Orthopaedics in Newark, Del., helped him learn about the different types of cast materials and even put a cast on a model arm that Gleason can use to demonstrate his invention.
After testing, Gleason was able to demonstrate that the insert, when used on a polyester cast, was able to completely dry out the cast after 60 minutes, meaning a patient might be able to shower with their cast on, Gleason said.
For Gleason, who plans to study mechanical engineering in college, the capstone project helped him learn the ins and outs of everything that goes into a large research project and his capstone is a great example of everything he’s learned, he said.
“I got to do all these kind of real world things that they don’t teach you in school,” he said. “I learned a lot and now I have something to prove it.”
Zainab Hayat, a senior at Elkton High School, is one of more than 90 students presenting their capstone projects at the STEM Capstone Gallery Walk on Wednesday.