Schools Notebook: District hosts annual eighth-grade STEM expo

Bruce Peterson of the Minnesota Energy Center shows Folwell eighth-grader Olivia Miller a device used to assess solar capacity at the STEM & Career Exploration Expo on Feb. 2. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Frisbee-shooting robots, electricity machines and mechanical arms greeted students Feb. 2 at the annual Minneapolis Public Schools STEM & Career Exploration Expo.

More than 2,150 eighth-graders were registered to participate in the sixth-annual event, which exposed kids to companies such as Best Buy and Boston Scientific as well as career fields such as health care, information technology and agriculture. The goal was to help kids connect what they’re learning in school to potential careers, said Sara Etzel, director of Career and Technical Education and Science, Technology Engineering and Math at MPS.

“We’re trying to plant seeds with our students about what the possibilities are that may not be represented in their normal communities, neighborhoods or families,” Etzel said. “We want to make that connection early and then hopefully through hands-on activities, they will see those connections and kind of get the itch.”

The fair is part of MPS’ career-planning process for students. In middle school, the district has students think about potential careers and make academic plans based on career paths.

Ninth- and 10th-graders take inventories and surveys that encourage them to think about how their interests and personalities intersect with the work world. Eleventh- and 12th-graders begin forming and executing a plan that includes career and college searches and applications.

To prepare for the career fair, eighth-graders learned about the state’s career wheel, which breaks careers down into six fields. Students were encouraged to visit exhibits that aligned with those fields. They were given a worksheet with different questions to ask exhibitors, in order to learn more.

Folwell eighth-grader Olivia Miller said a career survey indicated she might be suited for the arts, video technology, business, communications or agriculture. She plays in the school orchestra and said she likes the idea of doing something in the arts or video technology.

Eighth-grader Zavion Thompson said he’s interested in information technology, something for which the survey he’d be well suited.

Etzel said she hoped that each student in attendance could have one “aha moment” at the fair. She said another goal was to give students tangible hands-on activities as well as opportunities to see the tools used in the different STEM fields.

MPS’ Career and Technology Education department serves more than 3,000 high school students annually. The department has offerings in everything from radio broadcasting to robotics, engineering, health care and food science.

Etzel said the department is working to create a district-wide campus for career and technology education, one where students can take classes in their interest area, even if it’s outside their own high school.

While she’d love for students to be interested in STEM, the CTE classes can help students realize what they’re not interested in, too, something that could provide them direction in college. Plus, the classes help students develop skills in problem solving, teamwork and communication, skills that help in any career.

Employers appeared to appreciate the efforts. Jessica Damm of Hennepin County Human Resources came to the event with members of the county surveyor’s office. Members of the office brought a 3-D point scanner with them, explaining to kids how the device can create a 3-D model of something like a bridge or a historical sign.

“Kids know about things like doctor or lawyer but they don’t necessarily know about other careers,” Damm said. “Events like this are a great way to showcase careers that they haven’t thought about that could be a perfect fit for them.”

Steven Yates, director of program management for Boston Scientific, said his company feels it’s important to invest in the future of the industry. He said the company wants more people thinking about STEM and feeling supported when they show interest.

“The hope here of anyone is just one or two people click on what we’re showing them,” he said. “It’s a huge kick to see what people are talking about and what kids get excited about.”

Southwest student up for national arts honor

Southwest High School senior Grace Abbott has been nominated to become a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

Abbott is one of 60 nominees for the honor, which goes to 20 students who exemplify academic and artistic excellence. Students were nominated by the National YoungArts Foundation and will be selected by the White House Commission of Presidential Scholars.

The arts scholars will join more than 140 other U.S. Presidential Scholars in June in Washington D.C. for a national recognition program and will present their work at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

Abbott, who has taken Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate art classes, will attend the Parsons School of Design next fall.

Statue coming to Armatage school courtyard

Old Friends

Old friends are coming to the Armatage Montessori School courtyard, and they will likely be there for a while.

The school will be installing the life-size bronze statue “Old Friends,” created by a Colorado-based sculptor, over spring break. The statue portrays an older man allowing birds to land on his arms and head. It’s about 7-feet tall and weighs several hundred pounds.

“It’s just this amazing, beautiful bronze statue,” Armatage Principal Joan Franks said.

The statue was donated by Armatage grandparent Cathy Rebuffoni and transported to the school by the moving company of Armatage parent Susan Wirth. Rebuffoni said she hopes the students will draw inspiration from the statue.

“It’s just beautiful, and hopefully kids will kind of relate to it,” she said.