CCPS STEM Academy looking for men­tors



— For Caer­wyn Hart­ten, hav­ing in­put from a sci­en­tist at Un­der Ar­mour helped her take her cap­stone project to a whole new level.

Hart­ten, a se­nior at Elk­ton High School and an avid swim­mer, wanted to test tech­ni­cal swim­suit dura­bil­ity for her cap­stone project as part of the STEM Academy. But the Elk­ton High School se­nior had no idea where to be­gin. That’s where her men­tor, Matt Trexler, a sci­en­tist at Un­der Ar­mour, came in.

He in­vited Hart­ten to spend a day at the com­pany’s lab in Bal­ti­more and helped her de­cide on a set of four tests to per­form for her project. Now, hav­ing suc­cess­fully com­pleted the project dur­ing her ju­nior year, Hart­ten is pre­par­ing to en­ter the project in some re­gional sci­ence fairs.

“It would have been so much harder to do with­out the help of some­one who re­ally knows this. If I didn’t have a men­tor, my project wouldn’t have been as suc­cess­ful as it was,” she said.

Hart­ten is one of many stu­dents who par­tic­i­pate in Ce­cil County Pub­lic School’s STEM Academy. 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.

As part of that cap­stone project, ev­ery stu­dent is as­signed a men­tor and as the pro­gram grows in size,


CCPS is looking for more peo­ple to vol­un­teer as men­tors for these projects, said Chris­tine Zata­lava, CCPS STEM in­struc­tional co­or­di­na­tor.

The STEM Academy started with 14 stu­dents from two schools grad­u­at­ing from the pro­gram in 2011. This year, about 65 ju­niors in the pro­gram are work­ing on cap­stone projects, but cou­pled with stu­dents at the Ce­cil County School of Tech­nol­ogy and stu­dents in the Project Lead the Way: Bio­med­i­cal pro­gram at Perryville High School, nearly 90 men­tors will be needed, Zata­lava said.

“The good news is that we’ve been ask­ing for men­tors for about a month now and we’ve put a pretty big dent in it,” she said. “But there are still needs.”

In par­tic­u­lar, Zata­lava is looking for peo­ple with ex­per­tise in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy as well as en­gi­neers and those with busi­ness and economic back­grounds. The men­tors pri­mar­ily com­mu­ni­cate with the stu­dents by email but many also talk by phone or even come into the schools to meet with the stu­dents, Zata­lava said.

The men­tors are also in­vited to at­tend a topic de­fense in De­cem­ber and to at­tend the STEM cap­stone gallery walk, where the fi­nal projects are pre­sented in June, Zata­lava said. Be­yond that, men­tors can be as in­volved as they want, she said.

Hav­ing a men­tor for their cap­stone project not only gives the stu­dents ac­cess to pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise in their area of study, it also helps them learn how to com­mu­ni­cate pro­fes­sion­ally, Zata­lava noted.

Like Hart­ten, Aen­gus Vervier also found that hav­ing a men­tor helped him el­e­vate his cap­stone project and make it more pro­fes­sional. The Perryville High School se­nior did his project on the ef­fects of bac­te­rial growth on the sur­face of chicken and re­ceived help from James Galen, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine.

Vervier orig­i­nally wanted to study lipid ox­i­diza­tion, which has to do with how oxy­gen af­fects lipids or fat. But that’s a hard thing to quan­tify, so Galen sug­gested he study bac­te­ria growth in­stead, since that’s eas­ier to track, Vervier said.

Through­out the process, Vervier said it was very help­ful to have Galen to bounce ideas off of as well as get in­put on his pa­pers and his poster.

“He helped me make the whole process more sci­en­tific,” he said. “With­out him, I would have done it in an el­e­men­tary way. It wouldn’t have been as high-level.”

Any­one wish­ing to get in­volved as a men­tor can contact Zata­lava at cmzata­lava@


Caer­wyn Hart­ten, a se­nior at Elk­ton High School, had a sci­en­tist from Un­der Ar­mour serve as the men­tor for her cap­stone project in the STEM Academy.

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