by Stephanie J. Montoya
Northern’s Biology department used a small grant from the Los Alamos National Labs Foundation to create “Best 4 Kids,” a program designed to get local elementary and middle school students excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
The two-part program brought 200 local students to campus for this year’s Traditional Agriculture and Sustainable Living Conference to hear speakers such as Vandana Shiva and Greg Cajete. Students also experienced hands-on learning through a cheese-making workshop and a presentation about patterns in nature.
Later, Northern biology students Justin Salazar and Leorrie Atencio followed-up with the elementary classrooms, teaching students about the health benefits of eating foods rich in phytochemicals -- compounds found in plants that are beneficial to human health.
Best 4 Kids worked to both stimulate and maintain interest in the STEM fields, an area that is growing quickly but with which many students still struggle. By exposing children to STEM early and by connecting it to real-world applications, such as nutrition, NNMC Biology Professor Dr. Ivette Guzman hopes Best 4 Kids will make a difference when students get to college.
“My hopes for the project are to showcase our STEM students and STEM majors at NNMC in an effort to increase interest in science at elementary schools, and foster a relationship between elementary schools and NNMC,” she said.
Guzman said that in the past two decades, graduation rates in Hispanic-serving institutions have declined, particularly in the STEM fields. Getting kids interested, maintaining that interest and preparing them for college-level math and science will be key in ensuring their future success Guzman said. Way to go students!