The monthly Science Cafe offers ABSS Middle School students an opportunity to learn about a variety of STEM-related topics.
The Elon Explorers Summer Science Enrichment Program expanded its efforts this fall with the monthly Science Slices initiative, which expands on the work done each summer with local middle school students from the Alamance-Burlington School System.
The final Science Slices event of the semester was held on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at Alamance Community College’s main campus and focused on the theme, “Animal Adventures: Protecting Wildlife and Their Homes Together.” Each Science Slices event this fall offered an opportunity for ABSS students and their parents to engage with experts from various scientific fields with hands-on activities and engaging discussions.
Richard von Furstenberg, a research student at North Carolina State University who studies human interactions with wildlife, was the guest speaker at the Dec. 13 event and spoke about the various challenges in wildlife care, such as habitat loss and coexistence with people.
There was also an opportunity for attendees to share their feelings about animals and come to an understanding of how to balance what people need with the protection of all animal species. “Tonight isn’t just about issues…we’ll get your brains racing with ideas about how we can care for animals and their homes in new and smart ways,” the event description promises. “Together we are embarking on a journey to understand how you and others can help the incredible diversity of life on our planet.”
That was the science – what about the slices? Attendees enjoyed a pizza dinner to go along with the night of science enrichment.
“Students learned about how researchers study people’s feelings and thoughts about wildlife to make decisions that support wildlife and also align with what people need,” said Jen Hamel, associate professor of biology and co-director of the Elon Explorers program. “Rich engaged the audience by asking them what they thought about a survey app and then showing them the data. Students and families explored North Carolina wildlife species by handling real specimens, skins and skeletons that they loved.”
The first Science Slices event was held in March 2022, and the series covered multiple topics. This fall semester, local high school students learned about building particulate matter sensors from the EPA Speakers Bureau at Research Triangle Park, robotics with Elon Associate Professor of Engineering Blake Hamment, and human anatomy with Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Education at Elon Paula DiBiasio.
Mark Enfield, Elon Explorers co-leader and associate professor of education, is proud of the way Science Slices events involve entire families. Elon Explorers’ other programs — a summer bug camp and a one-day spring break institute — focus on students, but the Science Slices events are designed to intentionally include families.
“One of the goals of these events is to build a community around science, especially for middle school students and their families,” Enfield said. “When I say community building, we include everyone in this program.”
Elon Explorers is one of North Carolina’s STEM Student Enrichment Programs (SSEP) and received a $147,570 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in September 2021. The grant has allowed the program to expand into year-round programming, such as the monthly Science Slices of Science cafes.
After the three-year grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund ends, the program will seek funding to grow the program into other STEM fields and help it become a long-term offering for the Elon community.
“We are fortunate that many of the students and families have attended multiple Science Slices events, and many of the students in our other programs also attend Science Slices,” Hamel said. “This kind of involvement demonstrates the community building that Mark mentioned – building a community around an enthusiasm for STEM!”