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@ ccps.org.
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.