VINCENNES, Ind. - High school students with a penchant for engineering learned about the bio-physics of the human hand and designed a biomechanical hand using everyday materials like empty Pringle cans. Other students created a TikTok video to teach how to perform hands-only CPR properly. One group of students conducted a physiological analysis to determine how the body’s pulse, blood pressure, reflexes, and breathing rate react to stimuli such as petting a cat or playing an anxiety-inducing game.
These are a few of the innovative and fun projects rising juniors and seniors showcased at the Vincennes University STEM Academy June 25-30.
The annual weeklong academy provided rising juniors and seniors from across Indiana an opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and develop a deeper understanding of college life through a residential experience on the Vincennes Campus. Participants who successfully completed the academy even earned college credit.
Switzerland County High School rising junior Zachary Sidell has a keen interest in engineering and aspires to become an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. Sidell believes the academy helped him determine what to major in when he begins college.
“The academy helped me narrow what kind of engineering field I want to join, and I chose biomedical engineering,” said Sidell, who also participated in the 2022 VU Jasper Summer STEM Academy.
The Vincennes STEM Academy and VU Jasper STEM Academy, which was June 13-14, offer access to opportunities many students typically would not have. The academies are free or at low cost to youths and their families due to many generous supporters, including Lilly Endowment Inc.
Throughout the Vincennes academy, the students experienced a variety of STEM-related opportunities, including electrofishing, bat identification, DNA fingerprinting, 3D printing, virtual reality human anatomy and dissection, and more. Students also participated in an escape room challenge with a health science and human performance theme and off-campus field trips to Good Samaritan Hospital and Berry Plastics. There were plenty of evening activities, too, in the Holodome Student Gaming Arcade and Jefferson Student Union.
Lexi Krall, who attends Oak Hill High School in Converse, Indiana, was most excited about making LED disco balls out of recycled wire and learning more about her future career choice.
She has wanted to become a math teacher since she was in fifth grade. She said attending the academy made it evident that teaching math is exactly the profession she wants to pursue.
“I met a math professor, and he actually gave me his information,” Krall said. “I can talk to him about math. This is all really fun. I’m getting immersed in the college experience. I want to come back next year.”
STEM careers are in high demand, and opportunities for well-paying jobs are abundant. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were almost 10 million workers in STEM occupations in 2021. That total is projected to grow by nearly 11 percent by 2031, more than two times faster than the total for all occupations.
“Careers in STEM are among the fastest-growing and highest-paid,” VU Director of Pre-College Programs Nicole Hagemeier-McVay said. “We are proud to offer bright young minds the extraordinary opportunity to experience Vincennes University and to immerse themselves in unforgettable hands-on educational adventures. By taking advantage of the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and high-quality resources, youth in Indiana have a chance to explore different paths toward a career in STEM and to dive deep into their interests. The students were elated when they were showing off their research and projects during presentations on the last day.”
Having spent a week in a residence hall, eating in a dining center, and learning on a college campus, Sidell says he knows what to expect when he enrolls in college.
“I met a really cool guy during my stay, and we became friends quick," he said. "Being surrounded by people who share similar interests to me is a very eye-opening experience."