The end of the school week saw Pinchback Engineering Building play host to the third annual Southern University “STEM Day” on Friday, November 17. Encompassing several different high schools across Baton Rouge such as Scotlandville Magnet High School and the Southern University Laboratory School, “STEM Day” was intended to educate students on the different career opportunities that are available in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The day was broken up into different sections: alumni/departmental talks, research presentation, student led organizations, and a competition section. As there were a little under two hundred students, the students were split up into groups for the different activities and talks to allow them to experience as many and as diverse of a selection of events.
The alumni talks featured Q&A’s from Southern University alumni who are currently working in technical fields. Students were able to learn the day to day tasks of professionals who work in different STEM related fields and ask questions. Julian Herbert, a 2008 computer science graduate who now works as a Senior Applications Developer for Amazon, shared his experience about how phone applications such as Snapchat and Instagram are built, maintained, and updated, “It’s [been going] good so far. We’re throwing a lot of information at them so finding a way to relate it to them and keep them engaged has been tough, but I feel like everyone has done a good job bringing it down to a level where [the kids] can understand it.”
The research presentations and student organizations were presentations led by current Southern University students highlighting the ways that college students can get exposure, applicable skills and work experience, and leadership experience. Student organizations like the microcontrollers club and the society of women engineers were present alongside the various STEM departments giving the high school students insight on how Southern University prepares its students for life outside of college.
The final, and arguably most exciting part of “SU STEM” day, was the robotics and engineering competition. Prior to Friday, teams of high schoolers worked for a little over a month designing, programming, and testing a small, remote controlled like car. The teams included two parts: an engineering team that would build the car and a business and marketing team that would determine the best way to pitch the car to investors.
The engineering team, with the guidance of Assistant Professor in the Electrical Engineering department Dr. Yasser Ismail, was responsible for making sure that the car was able to run independent of a human operator. As such, all the cars were equipped with up ten different sensors to calculate various variables. The cars were all able to detect objects in front of it and stop preemptively, detect the presence of a line and follow it around in a circle, and perform a cool doughnut. With various degrees of success, the teams were then judged by a small panel of judges. One of the judges, Dr. Lynette Jackson of the Computer Science department, was very impressed with the level of skill the kids showed, “I’m very impressed by them, I think they did very well. They learned a programming language in a down to Earth, easy to understand way, and used it to solve a real world problem.”
The business and marketing team was responsible for researching the product and figuring out a way to sell it. The students used data about car accidents and the most effective tools that are in use today to help drivers avoid car crashes to create an argument for why a company should invest money in the product. Most importantly though, the team was responsible for creating a price point to sell the cars at because as Kenny Johnson, a high school student at Scotlandville Magnet High school, said best, “If it don’t make money, it don’t make sense.”