Energy and excitement filled the Middle Tennessee State University Student Union ballroom earlier this week.
The buzz and vitality in the room came from 350 Rutherford County Schools students, family members, teachers, volunteers, project evaluators and community members participating in the fifth annual RCS STEM Expo, featuring all things science, technology, engineering and math.
The three-hour event showcased 170 original projects by elementary, middle and high school students in STEM Research, Engineering, Technology and Agricultural STEM. A photo booth, “Mr. Bond’s Science Guys” and a da Vinci Robot brought by TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center in Smyrna, Tennessee, added to the festivities.
Wearing a science research lab coat for the occasion, Stephanie Finley, a Science and STEM specialist with RCS, organized the event, which was held Monday, March 20.
MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes said the students “have done some really impressive work and I enjoy hearing them talk about their projects. It’s great to see them on our campus, especially when they are excited about what they are studying. … I hope many of them will come to MTSU.”
MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences was one of 24 companies, departments or organizations sponsoring a main award. The college also provided food and drinks, T-shirts, Best of Category medals for the students and numerous faculty and staff volunteers.
The university’s other award sponsors included the Department of Information Systems and Analytics, MTeach and the Women in STEM Council.
‘Outside the box’ thinking
MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten praised the “the really creative projects and the way the students think outside the box.”
Students from Central Magnet School, repeatedly ranked as one of the leading schools in the state and nation, emerged with 12 of 24 major awards.
With a perfect 100 score from the judges’ evaluation on their “Tutor Time” project, the Siegel Middle School trio of Anna Clark, Catherine Lewis and Christa Cooper earned the overall Best of Show and Elementary/Middle School Best in Technology awards.
“Tutor Time” is a student-based online program that allows students to connect with tutors their own age. The program also connects students other academic resources including practice quizzes and study materials. They spent two years creating, designing and completing the project.
A mix of tears and huge smiles emerged with the announcement. They also received $1,000 scholarships from MTSU, which will be awarded in fall 2027 if they attend the university. All said they plan to, noting that “MTSU has good programs in everything.”
“this is the hope for the future (of STEM). It also shows the work we’re doing in the classroom, which is a reflection of their teachers,” Kelly Chastain, assistant superintendent of schools, said of the teenagers’ academic talents.
For a number of seniors at Central and in Oakland High’s International Baccalaureate Program, the expo was a path to write a thesis.
Heading to MTSU
Expo participants Isaac Smith and Maddie Ettner of Central Magnet and Kelly Nguyen of Oakland High said they plan to attend MTSU this fall.
Smith scored a 34 on the ACT and 4.0 GPA, landing him a Presidential Scholarship; he plans to study biochemistry on a premed path. He said he likes MTSU because of its affordability and its Science Building and wants to take honors classes.
He and STEM partner McLane Martin, who have been best friends since sixth grade, said the project they collaborated on since August “all came together at the end” with successful results.
Ettner, 17, will study biochemistry on a path toward pharmaceutical science. She already frequents the Student Union after school “to come here and study with friends. I like the background noise, and it’s not too far to walk from Central.”
Nguyen, who said she “loves the science building, it’s really beautiful,” plans to study biology on a premed track and is awaiting results from her application for the MTSU-Meharry Medical School Early Acceptance Program. She also “love(s) research, the live process of it and doing it independently, though it’s a lengthy process.”
Van Patten and Finley said they hope the 2024 RCS STEM Expo will return to the Student Union ballroom.
Van Patten and the RCS STEM website promoted the 2023 Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub STEM Expo for fifth- through 12th grade students, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, in the MTSU Student Union ballroom.
Coordinated by the MTSU Tennessee STEM Education Center, categories will be in STEM Research, Engineering, Agricultural STEM and Technology. Divisions will include fifth and sixth grades, seventh and eighth and grades 9-12.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
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