For the love of STEM: Students volunteer at middle school

Students in a Sinagua classroom

Engineering major Charlie Wilson spends time most weeks with Flagstaff middle school students, volunteering at the Sinagua Middle School Institute for Technology and Engineering, and is often joined by other members of NAU’s American Society of Civil Engineers.

“These are eighth grade students doing a nationwide competition called Future City, where they design a 3-D model with transportation, energy, buildings and waste management,” Wilson said. “Many of the eighth grade students are just learning about engineering and it is cool to be that role model for them and hopefully spark interest for them in the field.”

NAU at Sinagua
NAU engineering majors, from left, Ryan Marshall, Charlie Wilson and Mariah Paz with Sinagua Middle School teacher Gretchen Downey.

Wilson and his peers offer more than scientific insights to students by bringing parts of the college experience into the classroom.

“The NAU students give us a better perspective of what college might be like and what we might be learning some day,” said eighth-grader Shea Wilson, who one day plans to pursue an engineering degree. “It is really interactive and I enjoy being hands on, building things and making a difference in society.”

Wilson’s classmate Dermot Louchart agreed that engineers do work that matters and said he enjoys working with the NAU students on building a city. “It is super interactive and engaging,” he said. Louchart’s part of the project focuses on money management and city government.

Because of its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Flagstaff earned the designation as a STEM City in 2012. The STEM City Center was initially funded by NAU, with several partners joining the effort in the last two years. For many people, the STEM City designation is a source of pride.

Middle School students
Sinagua Middle School students Shea Wilson and Dermot Louchart.

“NAU students bringing STEM into the classroom is important because my students sometimes think of science as an isolated topic but now they see college students applying it in their lives,” said Gretchen Downey, a teacher at Sinagua Middle School’s Institute for Technology and Engineering.

“As an engineering student, it feels really good to introduce these eighth graders to engineering and science,” said NAU senior Mariah Paz. “I wish I would have been exposed to similar principles in middle school.”