Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fourth Annual Shell S.T.E.M. Showdown Held at UNO

Building a geodesic dome from plastic straws and masking tape isn't as easy as it looks — particularly if you want that dome to be strong and to last. That was the challenge on Friday for more than 100 high school students gathered at the University of New Orleans Lindy C. Boggs Conference Center for the fourth annual Shell S.T.E.M. Showdown, a fierce competition.

"Shell is excited to support this event because we are looking toward the future and we want to energize these kids to become our future — to help us create the talent pipeline that will keep our company and projects sustainable," said Qiana Wiggins, communications business adviser for Shell Oil. "This program is to help motivate them, bring awareness about how S.T.E.M. education works in the real world."

For the last four years, the University of New Orleans, together with Shell Oil Company and Viva Technology's Great Minds in STEM, has hosted an all-day competition designed to entice high school students to studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Winners receive $5,000 to buy S.T.E.M. Materials for their school. They also receive name recognition.

The annual Shell S.T.E.M. Showdown aims to excite young students, developing their skills and interests in S.T.E.M., and foster an interest in the petroleum and gas industry, said Evette Torres, who is part of Shell's Workforce Development Initiative in Houston, Texas. The energy giant is planning its future workforce for Shell's new Olympus deep-water first oil tension log platform off the Louisiana coast and its counterpart Mars, which will help to drill 48 oil wells off the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast through at least 2050. As Baby Boomers retire and technology advances, Shell Oil — and the oil and gas industry — will continue to create great demand for skilled workers.

"Not in recent memory have I seen kids that competitive about science," said La. State Rep. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, who stopped by the event on Friday. "The competitive spirit is as great as any that I've seen at a football game or any other event."

Great Minds in S.T.E.M.

The 2014 Shell STEM Showdown brought together underserved Louisiana high school students and students from five Louisiana universities to compete in a series of intense science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) challenges.

One hundred high school students from Eleanor McMain High School, Hammond High Magnet School, McDonogh 35 Preparatory High School, Scotlandville Magnet High School and St. Joseph's Academy came to campus ready to compete on Friday. Approximately 30 students from Louisiana State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, Southern University and A&M College, Tulane University and the University of New Orleans were on hand to partner as advisers.

Guided by their college counterparts, the high schoolers competed throughout the day in a series of hands-on exercises designed to stimulate interest in the applications of technology and help students see the relationship between their math and science studies and the varied STEM careers. In separate sessions, their parents and teachers participated in similar projects.

In the Geodesic Dome experiment, instructors gave a scenario: Shell Oil needs to build a geodesic dome structure in which oil and petroleum tankers will be stored. Due to pressure created by natural gas emissions, the dome needed to be able to withstand both external and internal pressures, or "load," as well as protect gases from leaking.

Students built structures from plastic straws held together by masking tape, then suspended a Hammock-like swing near its ceiling. When all the structures had been built, judges placed weights on each structure's swing to test its ability to withstand weight and pressure. Tears in masking tape indicated a possibility of leakage. Structures built with too much tension imploded. The last structure standing won top prize.

Structure, stability and other engineering principles were at work, said Roberto Ornelas, Great Minds in STEM's senior coordinator of education programs. In a second challenge, students built a mechanical launcher from PVC pipe, cutoff plastic risers, giant rubberbands, card stock and card stock. Successful launchers sent beanbags flying through the air in the exercise designed to instill physics with projectile motion and tension.

All activities are designed to use inexpensive materials and recyclable materials, so that they may be easily implemented by clubs and in schools, said Lupe Munoz-Alvorado, director of education programs at Great Minds in STEM. Great Minds in STEM tries to connect the region and sponsor's needs to activities.

Eleanor McMain High School and UNO Take Top Prizes

Top prize at the 2013 Shell STEM Showdown was a $5,000 STEM Club grant won by Eleanor McMain High School students and UNO, showdown champions. The high schoolers received netbook laptops while the University students received $1,000 scholarships and registration in Great Mind's 26th Annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC) conference, to be held Oct. 2-4 in New Orleans.

The McMain High School students were coached by a team of UNO students: Leah Grassi, who recently defended her Master of Science graduate thesis in Earth and Environmental Sciences; Ujwal Patil, a chemistry graduate student; undergraduates Brandy Vann and Ricky Guidry, who both study curriculum and instruction in the College of Education and Human Development; and Susan Nguyen, an undergraduate mathematics student. Grassi and Nguyen were back at the competition for the second time.

"When I came the first year, I didn't know what to expect," said Grassi. "This time I came back, just for the opportunity to help the students. The teamwork is outstanding," she said of the students from Eleanor McMain. "They're definitely being taught STEM."

The McMain students all expressed an interest in S.T.E.M.-related careers.

"This is my third year coming and every year I have fun," said Janell Easterling, 16, a junior at McMain. She eagerly participated in events with fellow members of her high school robotics team, which recently placed 23rd out of 57 teams participating in the Bayou Regional Robotics Competition.

"My teacher was telling me about it and it sounded like fun," said Foluke Uwaezuoke, 17. "This is also helping to develop my communication skills. Whatever you do in life, you're always going to be working with others."

Taylor Hedrick, a 16-year-old sophomore at McMain was confident about her team's abilities from the start.

"I guess we felt competent because we were prepared. And we came in expecting that we would have to work together as a team and I guess that gave us the upper hand."


Read More

University of New Orleans Hosts Third Annual Shell S.T.E.M. Showdown
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