Students and faculty from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology volunteered to share their enthusiasm for science with middle schoolers and to help diversify the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields into the future.

EEB graduate students Anthony Wing and Morgan Lindback share information about microbes in the wild with eighth graders from Cesar Chavez Middle School. Image credit: Melissa Duhaime

The December 2019 event was a College Day Middle School Program (Building Futures and Inspiring Young Minds). It was a partnership between the Center for Educational Outreach at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the U-M Postdoctoral Association and the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Sciences (SACNAS). The event featured interactive science activities for 8th graders from Cesar Chavez Middle School, Detroit. They visited campus to increase the exposure of their students to STEM, STEM careers, and to create a sense of connection and belonging to U-M. 

Rather than final research presentations, students in EEB Professor Melissa Duhaime’s EEB 447 Microbes in the Wild class created outreach activities for the event. Their activities were based on research they engaged in during two weeks at the U-M Biological Station, on a tall-masted schooner on Lake Michigan, and in Sleeping Bear Dunes, working with the National Park Service. The topics included: 1. Would Great Lakes microbes clean up an oil spill? Simulating a Line 5 oil pipeline break. 2. What is killing thousands of birds in Sleeping Bear Dunes? A story of invasive species, algae, and microbes. 3. Plastic, plastic everywhere (in our Great Lakes). Can microbes eat it? 4. The great green (bacterial) monster of Lake Erie: Toxic cyanobacterial blooms we can see from space and the solution to having them disappear forever. EEB graduate students who assisted with Duhaime lab activities were Anthony J. Wing and Morgan Lindback. Rachel Cable, research lab technician also participated. EEB graduate student Juanita Pardo Sanchez taught students how to identify different tree species using resources available online with students from the School for Environment and Sustainability.  

EEB graduate student Juanita Pardo Sanchez taught students how to identify different tree species using resources available online. Image courtesy Center for Educational Outreach

“The students were excited to participate in the short STEM activities we led and seemed awestruck by the diversity of STEM researchers and research topics. They asked very thoughtful questions. I hope the students felt empowered to pursue STEM fields after engaging in conversations and activities,” Lindback said.

Fernanda Ryan, one of Duhaime’s students, originally from Mexico, got involved because while she’s been in college in the United States, she hasn’t met many Latinos in science. “I would like to see more Latinos in the future working in different science disciplines in America. I believe if the children see someone whom they can identify with working in the field, they will be more likely to choose a career in the sciences.”

EEB Professors Fernanda Valdovinos and María Natalia Umaña presented an activity on pollination and plant-pollinator networks. Students from Valdovinos’ Population and Community Ecology class who are in her lab participated: Sabine Dritz, undergraduate and Daniel Maes, master’s math student. In addition, Paul Glaum, EEB postdoctoral fellow and Matthew Tenglin, an EEB undergrad, helped.

High five for science! Image credit: Melissa Duhaime

There’s so much volunteering and community outreach that takes place within EEB that it’s not possible to cover it all. But, related to this activity, EEB Professor Nyeema Harris and her Frontier’s master’s student, Siria Gamez, participated in a Wolverine Express event at Cesar Chavez High School in Detroit a few weeks prior to this campus event and Harris brought this SACNAS event to the attention of the department.

As the program manager for the College Day Middle School Program (College Day: Building Futures and Inspiring Young Minds) with the Center for Educational Outreach, Da Jaunteyé Hawkins coordinated the event that was held in the Michigan League. She provided the following quotes from students in attendance: “I loved all of the science activities we did. They taught me science can be fun.” 

“It was fun learning about crystals and how they grow.” This student learned about new career possibilities on this field trip.

EEB graduate student Morgan Lindback’s table topic was harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. Image credit: Melissa Duhaime

“I liked talking to college students and seeing what they are doing and how college life is. They were nice and easy to talk to.” Accordingly, EEB graduate student volunteer Lindback’s favorite part of the event was eating lunch with the students. “They lots of asked questions about life in college and were really interested in the human side of university life.” 

One of the chaperones said, “Seeing our middle school students interact with college students was phenomenal. They learned a lot about STEM and the careers they can go in to. Many of our students have not been exposed to activities like the ones that were presented, so it was nice to see them engaged and enjoying each station.” 

Another chaperone said, “I would like to thank all of those that were involved in the two days to ensure our students had a day of fun college exposure. Only a handful of our students have been to a college campus, so for many it was their first time and the students were truly amazed at what they saw and did. First impressions go a long way.”