LSAMP Summer Institute Connects STEM and Sustainability

A Message from Kassy Holmes, Project Director, LSAMP

For incoming Valencia students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Summer STEM Institute (SSI) offers an opportunity to explore STEM degrees and career fields, engage in hands-on experiments, develop new friendships and learn about the many Valencia staff and faculty who are committed to supporting students in their STEM journeys. Nearly 50 incoming first-year students participated in SSI 2018, which took place Monday, July 23 to Friday, July 27, 2018, on Valencia’s East, Osceola and West campuses.

Now in its fifth year, SSI is hosted by the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program at Valencia and is a key component of efforts undertaken by the Central Florida STEM Alliance (CFSA), which is a National Science Foundation-funded partnership that is comprised of Valencia College, Lake-Sumter State College and Polk State College. The partnership is focused on reducing the diversity gap in STEM fields and increasing the number of underrepresented minority students who complete associate degrees at alliance institutions and enroll in bachelor’s degree programs in a STEM major.

Both Polk State College and Lake-Sumter State College hosted similar summer STEM programs for incoming students during June. All SSI programs across the alliance aimed to spark student interest in STEM majors and careers, while also improving students’ college readiness.

To achieve these goals, workshops at Valencia included interactive STEM exploration experiences, such as diabetes testing, 3D printing, creating slime, building bat houses, analyzing DNA and more, as well as discussions on topics like financial aid, scholarships, tutoring and important resources available to students. All students also participated in a field trip to a City of Orlando water reclamation facility where they learned about water ecology, water conservation, solar energy, recycling and composting, and more.

Another crucial component of SSI 2018 was the completion of a capstone project demonstrating how STEM can support local sustainability efforts and attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students worked in small groups to research, design and develop a project or strategy that advances sustainability efforts locally while also positively contributing to one of the SDG targets. These projects were presented during a poster walk on West Campus on the final day of SSI. By exploring the connections between STEM and the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability, students gained a better understanding of how their academic and career choices related to STEM can truly benefit society.

One student reflected on the evolution of their SDG project, as well as the benefits of the SSI experience, stating, “Throughout the week I had more and more exposure to experts in the field, and I realized that everything starts as an idea. My group had a small idea at first but, after working with the staff here at Valencia, we were able to workshop our idea into something that could actually be done. Now, I do feel like I can take action, and I will be able to do even more when I get further in my major.”

Another student stated, “I’ve come to realize just how many ways we can make the world a better place. I feel empowered to make a difference. I feel like my actions can actually make an impact on the big picture.”

SSI 2018 was truly a collegewide initiative that would not have been possible without the SSI leaders on each campus and the 60-plus staff and faculty who supported the program by organizing workshops, helping students with their poster projects and more. The LSAMP team greatly appreciates the time and commitment our colleagues put into making this program a success. Thanks to these efforts, all student participants said that they would recommend the Summer STEM Institute to a friend. The majority of SSI participants also expressed desire to remain engaged in LSAMP and STEM activities at Valencia and, based on student input, a CFSA-wide SSI reunion is being planned for the fall so that we may continue to the engage students in STEM and sustainability education.

Although SSI is only one-week long, the intentional design of the program — with immersive STEM experiences, college preparation activities, team-building exercises and quality opportunities to have fun with peers — supports students in learning lessons and establishing relationships that may last a lifetime. Most importantly, this experience is designed to guide students in realizing that no matter the challenges they face, they can achieve their goals in STEM.

As one student shared, “I never thought I would go into a field like this due to my struggles in science, specifically physics. However, hearing speakers talk about their struggles and overcoming them really gave me hope that I haven’t had in a while.”

For more information about the Central Florida STEM Alliance, the Summer STEM Institute or the LSAMP program at Valencia, please contact me at kholmes7@valenciacollege.edu, or 407-299-5000, extension 4315.

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