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USM Center for STEM Education Funds Teaching Kits for K-12 Schools

Mon, 07/08/2024 - 08:40am | By: Ivonne Kawas


“STEMontheGo,” an initiative of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for STEM Education is providing funding for the creation of kits, or mobile outreach demonstration models, designed to facilitate hands-on learning experiences to make research more accessible and exciting.  

 Recently, the Center allocated support to supply STEMontheGO kits to 13 recipients at the University as part of a larger $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education award to expand its STEM ecosystem. 

 “We are excited to fund a wide-range of creative proposals across the University, supporting faculty, staff, and students,” said Dr. Julie Cwikla, director for the Center for STEM Education. “This program aims to help scientists communicate and illustrate their research, while enhancing our efforts to drive STEM awareness and engagement that can ultimately help the region and Mississippi be more competitive.” 

Program Coordinator Teresa Lampe noted that the STEMontheGO kits can engage learners of all ages during outreach activities, including recruitment fairs, guest speaker presentations, field trips, and campus visits. 

“The kits engage learners through grab-and-go style demonstrations that enable us to educate audiences through immersive and hands-on activities that not only spark curiosity and discovery but make it easier to understand introductory concepts.” 

Dr. Matthew Donahue, associate professor of organic chemistry in the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, created a STEMontheGO kit in collaboration with members of the American Chemical Society at USM titled “Magbag.” It consists of 3D printed plastic atoms with embedded magnets to help students learn about the different bonding patterns of elements and the shapes of molecules.  

“Our outreach project started with a grant from USM’s Center for Faculty Development that allowed us to purchase a commercial model kit called ‘Snatoms,’” Dr. Donahue said. “Inspired by this, we developed a STEMontheGO kit using 3D printed colored filament representing different elements of the Periodic Table.   

“We believe the tactile experience of holding atoms and snapping them together will bring a better understanding of chemistry. Ultimately, we hope that this leads to better retention in STEM fields and furthering of their education here at USM when the time comes.” 



Dr. Patrick Hoehne, assistant professor of digital humanities and history in the School of Humanities, created a STEMontheGO kit titled “Print the Past,” designed to replicate historical artifacts in conjunction with efforts to document and preserve local history. 

“I always loved encountering the materiality of the past when visiting museums or historic sites,” said Dr. Hoehne. “There’s something exciting about seeing and engaging with actual three-dimensional artifacts when imagining how the past might have been.   

“However, I always wanted to go beyond the exhibit glass and be able to manipulate, handle, and examine these objects more closely, and 3D scanning and printing allow us to do just that. We can make historical artifacts more accessible by creating scans for online dissemination, while 3D printing offers new opportunities for education and discovery.”  

The project’s community outreach element includes collaboration with local schools and community groups leading to interactive demonstrations of 3D scanning and printing, with participation in events like Mississippi History Day.  

“We look forward to partnering with other schools and community groups to not only showcase this technology, but also invite students to participate in the process of selecting, scanning, and sharing three-dimensional historical artifacts,” Dr. Hoehne further noted. 

Other principal investigators and funded STEMontheGo kits include:  

  • Luis Altamirano, School of Ocean Science and Engineering Marine Science (Hydrography) Ph.D. student; Project Title: “Planet Earth.” By using interactive 3D-printed models to explore coastal, continental, and marine environments, this kit highlights the diversity of Earth's landscapes. Through simulations of sea-level changes, sediment movement, and deposition, students will deepen their understanding of geological processes and how they affect infrastructure, fostering awareness of environmental changes and their impact on our planet. 
  • Dr. Sermin Aras, School of Health Professions and Research Manager for Mississippi INBRE; Project Title: “Sweet and Salty – A Tale of Imbalance.” With the aim of promoting healthier food and beverage choices in Mississippi communities, this kit aims to raise awareness about health and disease risks. It includes visual and educational displays such as food models and 3D models of the circulatory system, as well as interactive activities based on MyPlate guidelines. The project also serves as a community service opportunity for USM students, enhancing the university’s commitment to health and wellness promotion. These efforts are designed to educate individuals and groups, fostering behavioral changes toward healthier lifestyles during community interactions. 
  • Emma Humphreys, graduate student (Master of Science) School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences; Project Title: “Conserving Our Environment Through Art.” Educating students on environmental conservation through an artistic approach, this kit aims to demonstrate that beautiful and fun things, like paint, can be made from natural materials.  Students gain an appreciation for natural resources, inspiring them to conserve the organisms that depend on them. 
  • Rachel Lancaster, School of Ocean Science and Engineering, Marine Science Ph.D. student; Project Title: “Navigating the Carbon Cycle.” Using an interactive wooden labyrinth puzzle, this kit introduces students to the complexity and significance of the marine carbon cycle, guiding them through various pathways in the marine environment, from the ocean surface to ocean sediment. 
  • Dr. Clay Tucker, assistant professor, School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences; Project Title: “DendroKit.” In providing students with interactive exercises during field trips to forests, this kit facilitates hands-on learning and practice of dendrochronology fieldwork. Students will learn: (1) how to collect tree-ring data, (2) the importance of storytelling through paleo-archives, and (3) how the environment affects biological organisms. 
  • Dr. Michael Vera, associate professor, School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences; Project Title: “Lasers, Optics and Color Demonstrations.” Offering optical demonstrations that include lasers of various colors, each with different power levels to pop balloons of corresponding colors, this kit fosters excitement and interest in science. It also demonstrates the effects of diffraction gratings and how light can carry sound signals to an amplifier. 

Learn more about the USM Center for STEM Education.