Franklin Students Get Hands-On in the Lab
Posted on 05/19/2022
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Imagine you’re a 7th grader with a passion for science—fascinated about how and why things work. Now imagine getting hands-on experience in a world-class engineering lab next to real-life scientists and researchers who ask the same questions you do, with the knowledge and resources to find the answers and change the world.

 Through a partnership with the University of Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (I-MRSEC) and its I-STEM Education Initiative, Franklin STEAM Academy makes this dream a reality for middle schoolers.

 I-MRSEC Education and Outreach Coordinator Pamela Pena Martin explains the curriculum for the program: “We work with students on activities that help promote the image of themselves as scientists, in hopes that this will encourage many of them to pursue STEM studies.” She and Franklin’s Magnet Coordinator, Zanne Newman, work together on stimulating, student-centered projects designed to build confidence and help students make real-world connections to science.

 Every year brings exciting experiences, including lessons from researchers and professors, visits to the Research Center, and first-hand encounters with Virtual Reality, super magnifying microscopes, and actual scientific equipment to understand the how and the why. This year goes even deeper. “We want to give the kids the chance to get to know scientists and see them as real people,” Martin says. “Every Friday, the students meet in their project group with their own scientist.” Each group works on a project week after week, “and they get to know each other. They have conversations about what middle-school was like, foods they love, and what music they listen to. It gives the kids the chance to see the scientist as a real person and someone they could grow up to be.” Needless to say, the program makes positive impact on both the students and the scientist they get to work with.

 While the program focuses on materials science, Martin hopes to integrate more arts into the program as well. “Having an artistic eye is very beneficial to science research, and so is being a good writer.” The goal is to take something students feel comfortable expressing themselves with, and bring it into science. “Everything we do here at the Center requires creativity—that’s where new ideas come from, widening our perspectives.”

 With over 20 professors, researchers, and staff from the University now involved, Pamela Pena Martin is proud of the program’s growing success—for both the I-MRSEC and the budding scientific minds at Franklin STEAM Academy.

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