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Gannon's Feeding Minds and Families Delivers S.T.E.M. Kits to Local Students

Gannon's Feeding Minds and Families delivered S.T.E.M. kits to local students

Gannon's Feeding Minds and Families delivered S.T.E.M. kits to local students

Gannon University’s Feeding Minds and Families program delivered 80 S.T.E.M. kits to Strong Vincent Middle School/GO College and East Middle School on Friday, Oct. 23 to be distributed to students this week as part of an initiative to engage them in S.T.E.M. fields through hands-on learning.

The kits were designed around the theme, “Make it Move,” and feature engineering and science activities around movement. Students will receive supplies to build a mousetrap car, a stomp rocket and a prosthetic hand. They will also receive informational resources to learn about bodily movement.

The kits are additionally intended to introduce students and their families to local S.T.E.M. experts, including Davide Piovesan, Ph.D., chair of the biomedical engineering program at Gannon.

Quyen Aoh, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Gannon and founder of Feeding Minds and Families, said the kits will give students a way to have fun with S.T.E.M. outside of traditional academics.

“Especially now when most academic learning is virtual, we wanted to provide something hands-on,” Aoh said. “In our experience, we have found that kids at these ages (11-14) are naturally curious and love to tinker. But doing S.T.E.M. for fun sometimes require a little instruction and supplies that aren’t necessarily what you would have just laying around.”

The kits were assembled by Aoh and her Feeding Minds and Families team members including Andrew Sipple, an AmeriCorp VISTA with Lake Effect Leaders, and Maile Chang, a senior biology and secondary education student and research assistant at Gannon.

Their efforts also garnered support from Gannon University’s Robotics Development, or GUBotDev, including Nick Devine, Gannon lab engineer, and Christopher Devine, a mechanical engineering student and graduate assistant at Gannon, who helped in designing and assembling the kits, as well as delivering the kits to schools using their Mobile S.T.E.M. Lab.

GUBotDev is a group that supports S.T.E.M.-related projects, outreach and research both within Gannon and the Erie community. Christopher Devine said his group has always been happy to support S.T.E.M. outreach to the Erie community by partnering with groups like Feeding Minds and GO College.

“Our group has had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects, so we are always willing to turn around and use some of the resources we have gathered along the way to support our local schools,” Devine said. “All of the members of our group were inspired to be in the S.T.E.M. field at some point growing up, so if we can inspire any of these students with our 3D printers, drones, or these fun S.T.E.M. activity kits, we are happy and proud to do so.”

Aoh launched Feeding Minds and Families as an after-school program to create interest in S.T.E.M. fields among Strong Vincent Middle School students. The program was initially funded in 2018 through the American Society for Cell Biology’s new Public Engagement grants. It has since been funded through a Department of Education Supplemental S.T.E.M. grant awarded through GO College and donations through Erie Insurance via the Pennsylvania Education Initiative Tax Credits.

Aoh said the after-school program was going strong early in the spring but had to be canceled at the onset of the pandemic. The program – which involved mentors and volunteers including Gannon faculty, staff and community members – typically includes hands-on activities followed by a family meal with local leaders in S.T.E.M. fields.

“With the uncertainty of the upcoming year, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to continue that program. However, we wanted to find a way to continue to support informal S.T.E.M. learning for youth in these schools,” Aoh said.

That is when she first piloted a summer S.T.E.M. kit delivery for students in GO College at Strong Vincent Middle School. The kits provided resources for students to explore nature, engineering and technology and included activities such as building a catapult, exploring soil ecosystems, and creating a fully functional paper microscope.

“These kits were well received and so we decided to move forward in putting together a Fall S.T.E.M. kit,” Aoh said.

Aoh said the vision of Feeding Minds is to inspire Erie’s next generation of S.T.E.M. experts by providing fun and accessible opportunities to Erie City youth and their families.

“Even in the midst of COVID, we want to provide opportunities for Erie’s youth to learn about and do S.T.E.M. in fun ways,” she said.

Barbara Priestap, director of GO College, said Gannon’s biology and engineering departments have been collaborating with GO College for the past four or five years to provide engaging activities for students including 3-D printing, constructing robots, building fold-scope microscopes, and collecting water samples on Gannon’s Environaut.

“These types of collaborative events create inspiring and educational opportunities for our students,” Priestap said. “The support and creative effort that Gannon faculty and staff provides us truly changes the trajectory of our students’ lives.”

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