Un­der­served chil­dren learn from pro­fes­sion­als

Event part­ners with lo­cal groups for STEM lessons

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Ileana Na­jarro ileana.na­jarro@chron.com twit­ter.com/IleanaNa­jarro

Adri­enne Sanchez re­layed feed­back near the off­shore plat­form model made of wooden blocks. Three young girls care­fully dropped pen­nies onto a float­ing Lego boat they crafted un­der Sanchez’s su­per­vi­sion.

As soon as the 11th coin plopped aboard, the rain­bow-col­ored struc­ture cap­sized.

“Looks like it’s time for a re­design,” Sanchez said. “Re­mem­ber, you want to dis­place the wa­ter by ad­just­ing the weight of the boat.”

Sanchez, a project en­gi­neer for the oil and gas con­sult­ing firm New Tech Global En­vi­ron­men­tal, traded in her usual co­horts Satur­day for stu­dents ea­ger to learn the fun­da­men­tals of buoy­ancy.

More than 600 ele­men­tary, mid­dle and high school stu­dents at­tended Com­cast Tech­pak at the Hous­ton Com­mu­nity Col­lege West Loop South cam­pus. They spent the day get­ting to meet and learn from pro­fes­sion­als in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math fields as they cre­ated mo­bile apps, used an open-source pro­gram to mod­ify the video game Minecraft and tested their en­gi­neer­ing skills by see­ing how many pen­nies their Lego boats could hold up be­fore they sank.

While Com­cast has held a num­ber of dig­i­tal lit­er­acy events for chil­dren in the past, Satur­day’s event was the first to fea­ture a part­ner­ship with the Hous­ton His­panic Fo­rum and the So­ci­ety of His­panic Pro­fes­sional Engi­neers, said Michael Bybee, spokesman for Com­cast.

The premise of Satur­day’s event was to en­sure stu­dents from un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties, many of whom are His­panic, re­ceive ex­po­sure to pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in STEM fields that they may not get in school or at home, said Sine­ria Or­doñez, in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hous­ton His­panic Fo­rum.

By hav­ing them par­take in hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties, Or­doñez hopes these stu­dents will be in­spired to one day fill in the di­ver­sity gap that ex­ists in STEM-re­lated in­dus­tries. Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study by the U.S. Cen­sus, His­pan­ics made up 7 per­cent of the STEM work­force in 2011, while blacks made up 6 per­cent.

“There is def­i­nitely a need for di­ver­sity in STEM,” Or­doñez said.

Gary Foun­tain pho­tos

Sis­ters Emma, 6, and Elaine Pruneda, 4, de­sign and build a Lego boat to see how many pen­nies it can hold dur­ing the Com­cast Tech­pak event.

From left, Kai Jack­son, 7, Pra­neel Bha­ga­vat­ula, 10, and Chase McClure, 8, fly pa­per air­planes they de­signed as part of learn­ing about ca­reers in STEM.

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