STEAM day celebrates multi-faceted education

When T.J. Melvin was a young boy, he found a fossilized shark tooth at the beach, sparking an interest that grew into a hobby bordering on an obsession. A student at Mitchell Community College, Melvin has collected more than 10,000 fossilized animal teeth in the last two decades.

And now he’s using that curiosity to try and turn his passion into a career. Melvin manned the Zoology booth during the college’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Day on Tuesday, which promoted pursuing careers in the science and math fields.

“To me, it’s just like a treasure hunt,” Melvin said about what drew him to science. “Finding new and different things, that’s what’s exciting about it.”

Across the nation, grade schools and community colleges are ramping up their STEM course offerings as manufacturing has become more computerized and digital skills are needed more than ever in the business world. But recently, there has been a push to add the “A” to make it STEAM education because having an understanding of fine arts and literature helps with communication, teamwork and critical thinking

MCC instructor Chris Yockey, who coordinates the writing center at the college, offered treats at a booth on Mitchell’s circle on Tuesday to students who could write haikus.

“It’s hard to get people to write, so we gave them cookies,” said Yockey, adding that she was trying to help students get over the fear of writing.

“One of the things industries say now is that when employees come to them, they don’t know how to write well,” she said.

Charles Tilley with the Piedmont Amateur Astronomers club, which set up telescopes on the college’s circle on Tuesday, said that he thought science was not emphasized enough in the United States, pointing out that most elementary schools do not have a full-time science teacher. A 2012 study done by the Program for International Student Assessment, which collects results from 65 countries, found the U.S. failing to crack the top 20 in science and math, with the top scores all coming from Asian countries. The scores from China’s largest city, Shanghai, showed their math students to be two years ahead of those in Massachusetts, one of the highest-performing U.S. states.

“The U.S. has fallen way behind in the world in (STEM education). We’ve got to be teaching it,” said Tilley. “Our future is with our kids and we’re not doing a good job with it.”

There were about two dozen booths and tables run by different Mitchell classes and clubs set up throughout campus on Tuesday promoting STEAM education. MCC Biology instructor Tia Coleman, who is also Dean of General Education, said that the college was “trying to show how multi-faceted all these areas are, and how they play into each other.” The goal was also to show how interesting science and math can be at times. Most of the booths had interactive activities.

“We are losing students not wanting to major in science because a lot of them think it’s too difficult or boring or something they can’t do. Well, they can,” said Coleman.

Mitchell also held Advanced Manufacturing Day in the morning on Tuesday. Students were invited to tour the college’s machining, electronics and drafting labs that have become increasingly more technological over the last few years as the manufacturing industry has come to rely heavily on STEM-related skills instead of brute force.

After spending time on the college’s circle on Tuesday, MCC student Andrew Barker, who is currently taking biology classes, said that he was attracted to science courses because even the people at the top of the field are learning new things each day.

“The cool thing about science is there’s always something new to discover,” said Barker.

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