This is the 18th summer where local elementary school students have come together in the name of science and have been encouraged to express and develop their creativity in numerous ways in the scientific field. Last Friday, June 28, these students celebrated the completion of the “A Celebration of Life XVIII — Energy!” program, a two-week course offered through the collaborative efforts of the African American Ethnic Academy (AAEA) and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTCI).
The AAEA Summer Science Program Celebration at BTCI was a chance for students to show their parents, their families, and the rest of the community what they learned in the past two weeks as they studied kinetic and potential energy, renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, solar energy, and much more. “One of the highlights this year was taking a field trip to the [Henry Vilas] Zoo where we studied the renewable energy sources there,” says Barbara Bielec, the education specialist of BTCI who has been helping to facilitate “A Celebration of Life” for the past 10 years. “We did a scavenger hunt because the zoo has many energy-saving features including things like a green rooms, solar panels, a special heating system in the aviary, geothermal heating in the children's barn, rain gardens. They have a lot of different ways that they try to conserve energy at the zoo so that was a fun way to tie it all together on a good field trip.”
The AAEA and BTCI, both 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organizations, have collaborated for 18 years in offering "A Celebration of Life," a summer science program for upper elementary and middle school students. The primary goal of the AAEA/Institute partnership is to support African American students' interest in the life sciences and provide them with the tools for success in school. The program affords children an opportunity to expand their scientific knowledge by conducting hands-on experiments.
“In class, we also talked about how NASA uses energy to get vehicles into space,” Bielec said. “As always, we talked about historic and contemporary African American STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] professionals who work with the topic of energy including some who are affiliated with NASA.”
Dr. Carol McCartney, a geologist for the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, was one of the special guests for the students this year. “She talked to the kids about renewable and non-renewable energy sources in Wisconsin,” Bielec said. “We also had a student visit from the Engineering Department at UW-Madison, Monterat Calixeo, and she helped us with some lab activities. The kids learned quite a bit.”
The children also learned about solar energy and studied energy with plants and animals talking about the food chain and how plants produce energy in different conditions.
A long-term objective of “A Celebration of Life” is to increase the number of minority students who enroll in — and successfully complete — high school science courses, and who eventually choose to pursue scientific careers. In addition to developing knowledge and abilities associated with scientific investigations in field and laboratory settings (e.g. formulating and testing hypotheses, utilizing problem-solving skills, learning and demonstrating correct techniques), students are challenged to develop their communication skills (e.g. through teamwork, journals, presentations to parents and family members).
“I could tell the kids were excited about energy and talking about the things we discussed because it went beyond the classroom with their parents,” Bielec said. “When the kids come back from the weekend, they often talk about what they did. We had one student who was in Wisconsin Dells with his family where he saw a dam. He was talking to me all about that — turbines, generating electricity, etc. He was keyed in on that despite the fact he was doing so many other fun, exciting things that the Dells has to offer.”
"A Celebration of Life" is financially supported through grants, donations, fund-raising activities, and significant in-kind contributions from the Academy and the BTC Institute as well as program volunteers. Current sponsors include the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, ASA Summer of Innovation Program, and Promega.
“I just want the kids to know that science is fun and science is everywhere,” Bielec said. “Science is not necessarily a quote unquote ‘hard class' filled with vocabulary. It's very hands on. There's so much about it that's fun and interesting.”
The middleschoolers will celebrate the completion of their “A Celebration of Life XVIII — Energy!” program next at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute on Friday, July 19.
For more information about the program, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org