STEM NOLA revolution takes on Baton Rouge
“GO. SEE. DO,” IS THE MESSAGE CALVIN MACKIE, Ph.D., is spreading with a STEM revolution that is exposing young people to
math and science interactively. The mission is to grow future innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs through inspiration,
engagement, and exposure.
“There is power in doing,” said Mackie. “At some point we have to get up off our behinds and do. We have to stop talking and planning and actually do something.” #LetsGoPeople is the hashtag Mackie adds to the end of every Facebook post, prompting his more than 16,000 followers to action. “I remember speaking with Dr. Cornell West and I whispered to him, ‘I am going to bring social justice to STEM,’” said Mackie, who taught engineering for more than 12 years at Tulane University in New Orleans. To do so, he established STEM NOLA to give children and teens opportunities to experience and gain knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics once a month—and in a big way. “If we give our kids the right skills now in math, science and technology, paired with their own creativity, they can create things the world never seen before,” said Mackie who has mentored thousands of college scientists. He has taken this message to audiences at NY Life, Morehouse University, Hillsborough Community College, and to researchers with the J Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, Discovery Communications, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The award-winning science mentor uses the STEM program to emphasize the importance of taking what is learned to create something new and compete with other youth from across the globe. He said for someone to own the future in the 21st century, “he or she must first create the future and for people of color to find a genius in their community. It is not enough to invest in only a select few, but to support and build up every child, teen, and young adult.” “We celebrate the fact that we have a million boys and girls playing sports dreaming to be one of 60 to get drafted,” he said. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, Tulane University eliminated its engineering program and fired Mackie. “So I decided, as Lebron James says, to ‘take my talents back home’.” Mackie said and chuckled.
After 12 years of dedicating his life to students in the classroom, the Morehouse graduate felt he could reach a larger number of young people and make a bigger impact by working directly in the community and enlighten his students on the importance of STEM in today’s world. “Why should I prepare my kid to go through a crack when there is a wide open gate of opportunity to go through”? He shared that opportunity in conjunction with Baton Rouge Community College. The STEM NOLA team came to the capitol city to give high school students the opportunity to experience life science, energy, and force using Mackie’s interactive module. What sets STEM NOLA apart from the classroom experience is the high energy activities the students complete in small groups in order to retain the information that was taught during a lecture. For three days, sixty high school students met the STEM NOLA challenge during Spring Break. On the first day, the lecture and lab covered life science and the heart. Mackie taught the importance of a healthy lifestyle in relation to the heart and how proper rest affects the heart’s circulatory system. Afterwards, the students built a four-chamber mechanical heart out of everyday materials and had the opportunity to dissect the four-chamber heart of a sheep. The next day was energy day. Students spent the first part of the day learning about active and passive solar energy. To aid with the understanding of solar energy, the group built solar energy houses that were placed outside to see which house allowed the least amount of sun inside. To track the amount of sun that each house allowed in, the rate of the increase heat for each house was measured. The house that increased at the lowest rate in heat was declared the winner and received a prize. Later that day, Mackie’s group was given windmill kits to put design and measure the amount of voltage from the windmill. The final day featured force in motion using paper and other household materials to create a rocket that could be launched by compressed air. The group launched solid rockets that could reach up to an altitude of 700 feet with the right booster. “BRCC saw what we did in New Orleans and said the kids in Baton Rouge deserved to experience something like this,” said Mackie. STEM NOLA is held in New Orleans every second Saturday of the month. It is also part of a national maker movement. ONLINE: www.stemnola.org
BY BRIANA BROWNLEE
JOZEF SYNDICATE REPORTER