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Middle schoolers in Beaufort County handled model NASA rocket ships, created their own chemical solutions and diagnosed coughing robots at the annual Beaufort County Police Activities League Youth STEM Career Day.    

Highlighting professions with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the event brought more than 200 students to Beaufort County Community College in Washington on a rainy Friday. Professionals from NASA, DSM, PotashCorp, ECU-Engineering, Beaufort County Health Department, Vidant Health and the Coast Guard provided hands-on demonstrations to spark students interest in STEM learning.

“It’s really important they get this STEM-centered mindset now,” said NASA mechanical engineer Sam James. He worries that a lack of real-world demonstrations in traditional classrooms do not fully show students how far students can go with STEM skills.

James brought models of space station rooms and space shuttle insulation for students to examine for themselves. The middle schoolers rotated through several different demonstrations throughout the day to get a diverse understanding of STEM-centric careers.  

North Carolina schools have put a larger emphasis on STEM classes over the past several years to prepare students for a more technology dependent future. During the career day students “diagnosed” a sick medical robot, mixed chemicals with a centrifuge and flew model planes.   

“It’s important that when they move on to high school they already have experience in STEM so they have an idea of what they want to do,” said president of BCPAL Al Powell.

For students, it was a great way to spark a passion in a new field or take skills they already love in the classroom to the real world.

Owen Ximenez, a student at PS Jones wants to be a mechanical engineer when he grows up, and loved getting to learn about airplanes.

“It was great to see what material actually goes into a plane,” he said. “I really like understanding the details of how it all works.”

Kirk Bado

Kirk A. Bado is a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism. Before coming to North Carolina, Kirk worked at the Tennessean where he covered state politics, breaking news, and the Nashville music scene. His passion is improving his community through journalism. Follow him on Twitter @kirk_bado.