Students create glue, extract banana DNA and explore green chemistry during STEM event

Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Fall in Love with STEM took place February 23 on the Allendale Campus.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney

Extracting DNA from a banana, exploring magnetism and using green chemistry were just a few of the activities that local middle school students participated in during a recent, interactive STEM event.

"Fall in Love with STEM," presented by the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) - West Michigan, took place February 23 in the Padnos Hall of Science on the Allendale Campus.

The event included various workshops and activities led by Grand Valley faculty, staff and students, focusing on cell and molecular biology, engineering, math, physics and chemistry.

"The event was geared at middle school students because studies have repeatedly shown that's when girls and minorities tend to lose interest in STEM for socio-cultural reasons," said Karen Gipson, professor of physics at Grand Valley and current AWIS-WM president. "The goals are two-fold: for students to experience the fun of learning STEM, and also to help students of all genders understand that science isn't a gendered activity."

Andrew Freiburger, a senior majoring in chemistry, guided the students in making glue from a combination of skim milk, baking soda and vinegar.

"Although science is frequently discussed, few children aspire to pursue science and even fewer actually pursue scientific research careers," said Freiburger. "Opportunities like this event help illuminate the enjoyable qualities of science and help inspire the next generation of scientists."

Katrina Teunis, a senior majoring in mathematics, helped facilitate math activities that involved several games and puzzles that promoted logical thinking.

"The goal was to show each student that math is more than numbers and give them the chance to interact with math in that context," said Teunis. "I also gave a demonstration about bubbles to show how they can be used to determine the shortest distance between multiple points."

Gage Paul, a junior double majoring in biomedical sciences and cell and molecular biology, demonstrated how to extract DNA from strawberries and bananas.

He said he enjoyed showcasing the "magic" of the biological world to the next generation.

"I believe that it is important to expose students to STEM majors at a young age as it allows for the development of critical thinking and reasoning skills," said Paul. "This teaches students to stitch concepts together from vague ideas and then employ these results to better the world around them."

Additional events focusing on geology, math, biology, astronomy and chemistry took place at Grand Rapids Community College and Hope College.

The Association of Women in Science is the largest multi-disciplinary organization that promotes women in STEM fields through advocacy, research and professional development. AWIS reaches more than 20,000 professionals worldwide. The West Michigan chapter of AWIS was established in 2016 by Gipson and a team of students, deans, faculty and staff members from Van Andel Institute and Hope College. GRCC joined the organization in 2017.

For more information, contact Gipson at gipsonk@gvsu.edu.