More than 300 attend Nuclear Power Institute's fifth annual Science on Saturday event

March 2, 2016
| By: Aubrey Bloom

More than 300 school children and community members from across the Matagorda Bay area came to Palacios, Texas, to take part in the fifth annual Science on Saturday event sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and Texas A&M University’s Nuclear Power Institute (NPI) last week.

Science on Saturday is a culmination of several of NPI’s annual outreach programs. High school students from the Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for Science, Engineering and Technology (POWER SET) and Workforce Industry Training (WIT) spend the year participating in many activities designed to increase their educational and career awareness and interests in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and mentoring middle school students in the Girls Responding to Industry Demands (Power GRID) and Boys Resourcing Technology (BRT) programs.

The POWER SET and WIT students from Palacios High School hosted the event at the high school gymnasium, demonstrating experiments for middle school and elementary school students from across the area, many of which are involved in Power GRID and BRT programs at their schools.

When the event was created five years ago, professors and teachers organized and performed the experiments. However, instead of just observing the high school students wanted to take over that leadership role a couple of years ago. According to Valerie Segovia, NPI director of outreach and development, the results speak for themselves.

“Originally we weren’t expecting that level of ownership from the students,” she said. “ It truly surpassed all expectations we had for the event.  Science on Saturday turned out to be something incredibly empowering and enlightening for everyone involved. We have community members and leaders, elected officials and industry representatives involved. We received a tremendous amount of support for them as well.  The event is growing and improving each year.”

The 26 interactive demonstrations included a hoverboard, marshmallow catapults, salt volcanoes, bubbles made with dry ice, standing inside of giant bubbles and many more. The highlight of the event, though, was when the students divided into teams and were given 20 minutes to create a tower of tape and spaghetti noodles that had to support a full-size marshmallow as high off the ground as possible. A group of middle school students from El Campo won the challenge with a tower just over two feet.

“Seeing the kids excited is the best part,” said Stephanie Garcia, principal of Palacios High School. “They get to put their hands on everything, they get to make a mess, and then they get to learn all the scientific principles behind them too. I actually had a parent say that she noticed that her daughter is being drawn to certain activities so she’s going to encourage her daughter even more to get interested in STEM as a career. That’s super exciting for me.” 

Superintendent Alejandro Flores said events like Science on Saturday are great outreach programs for TEES and Texas A&M, and give students the support they need to reach beyond what they might have previously thought was possible.

“It’s really all about providing kids the right kinds of opportunities,” said Flores. “As long as they have the right kind of support system from our end, anything is possible. To be able to bring their attention to STEM, that is the key. We need to push our best and our brightest, and it’s really up to us to provide them with the right kind of resources so they can reach their full potential.”

Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald has attended some of the other Science on Saturday events, and was at Palacios in 2010 when former Texas Governor Rick Perry presented a grant to the NPI POWER SET program. Almost six years later, McDonald said the impact the programs are having in the area is obvious.

“I’ve attended many basketball games in this gym, and what I’m witnessing today is kids getting just as excited about science, technology, engineering and math as they do about athletics,” McDonald said. “That’s huge -- that’s what A&M does. The Nuclear Power Institute celebrates young scientists, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Top photo: Chasity and Charity Nguyen make “boo bubbles” using dry ice.


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