Green STEM Camp Transforms Teens into Junior Scientists

by Diane VanDyke

Twenty-one middle school students from Pottstown and the surrounding areas immersed themselves in Montgomery County Community College’s laboratory classrooms, as part of a one-week camp, “How Scientists View the Environment,” during June 27-July 1 at the West Campus in Pottstown.

The College created this Green STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—program as the result of a $10,000 grant received earlier this year from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank. The program encourages youth to explore this exciting, growing career field.

Students collected and tested water samples from the local Manatawny Creek and Schuylkill River. Photos courtesy of Dr. Davi Gonzales

“To understand what it is like to be a scientist, you have to emulate the environment in which a scientist works from start to end, which is what we did during this week,” said Dr. Davi Gonzales, Biology Associate Professor at the College.

During the first day, Dr. Gonzales introduced the concepts of scientific method and experimental design. Through simple experiments with dice, students learned to form hypotheses, develop experimental designs to test their hypotheses and analyze their results.

Using Excel spreadsheets, the students learned about normal distribution, mean, standard deviation, 95 percent confidence interval and p-value. The students used these key concepts for various activities throughout the week.

“I thought it was cool that I could understand some of these difficult concepts. I learned about the t-test, p-value, scientific papers, experimental design and how to find a p-value by hand,” said 13-year-old Emily Daubenspeck, who wants to become a doctor. “I found the math aspect interesting because my dad teaches math, and he said his students were not learning this material until tenth grade.”

Students observed the liquid change in the container change color as the pH level changed.

After learning the basics, students explored various environmental issues and pollution problems. They collected and tested water samples from the local Manatawny Creek and Schuylkill River to investigate the impact of pollution on soil and water microbial diversity and to conduct pH and

water filtration tests. They also studied different species of birds in their natural habitats in the Schuylkill River floodplain in Pottstown’s Riverfront Park and practiced population sampling techniques.

At the conclusion of the program, the students analyzed the data from their experiments and displayed and presented their results using graphs and tables and Power Point programs.

“What makes this program truly unique is that it was done at a community college with middle school students within five days,” Dr. Gonzales said. “Usually, these types of programs are done by research universities with much older students. It proves that you can teach college-level material to younger students.  We were able to do this due to the tremendous talent of the faculty and staff involved.”

Assistant Chemistry Professor Dr. Jane Graden showed the students how to conduct pH and water filtration tests.

The week-long program was a collaborative effort of several MCCC instructors and staff, including Biology Associate Professor Dr. Davi Gonzales, Coordinator Ms. Cheryl Taylor-Mearhoff, Geology Professor Rob Kuhlman, Microbiology Instructor Dr. James Bretz, Assistant Chemistry Professor Dr. Janet Graden, Biology Instructor David Whalen, Math Assistant Professor Mark McFadden, Assistant Math Professor Barbara Lontz and Assistant Mathematics Professor Stephanie Isaac.

Additionally, Dana Swan and Anna Johnson of Arkema Inc., a global chemical company with a research center in King of Prussia, participated by sharing their knowledge and helping students in the lab. MCCC students Timothy Solomon and Barbara Jack also assisted in the classroom and out in the field.

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