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Sparking innovation with Young Makers at the Southeast Campus
Photos and Story by Christine Egan
Fourteen middle school students from three local schools in Southeast Portland come together at the STEM Center at PCC’s Southeast Campus every Friday after school to immerse their heads into code and their hands into building circuits. These sixth, seventh and eighth graders representing Bridger, Vestal, and Mount Tabor schools make up the Montavilla Young Makers Club, a collaborative program sponsored by volunteer Romanna Flores, Oregon State University’s Extension Service/4-H Youth Programs, the Montavilla Neighborhood Association and PCC Southeast Campus.
“You can literally see the gears turning in their heads as they problem solve their coding and wiring issues,” said Flores as she guides the students in learning about wearable technology, electrical engineering and programming utilizing a LilyPad Arduino – a small programmable computer that can be stitched together with conductive thread to create interactive garments and accessories.
The possibilities are endless, and once the students have mastered the programming and engineering functions, they are encouraged to work on their own innovative creations. Flores is a programmer at Intel’s Hillsboro campus and her son attends Mt. Tabor Middle School.
“Just when I think I have set the bar high enough with a complex project, the students challenge me and ask ‘when I am done figuring this out, what’s next?'” Flores added.
Having the club meet at the Southeast Campus gives local kids an opportunity to be a student on a college campus and interact with PCC students and faculty. For example, the students hosted an interactive booth at PCC’s grand opening event for the campus last October.
“The club took took a small break from wearable technology to build LEGO catapults and showed event guests how to launch a pumpkin. It was a big hit with the kids and adults,” said Flores.
Al McQuarters, dean for the Math, Sciences & CTE Division at Southeast, underscores the value of hosting the club on campus.
“Having local middle school youth on campus broadens the catchment of students, expands STEM literacy and creates a highly innovative STEM pathway in Southeast Portland,” he said.
In addition to programming in the classroom, the students toured the MIME (Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering) Machine and Product Realization Laboratory at Oregon State University and visited Intel for a Technology Exploration Day Workshop last fall. Flores has also added in an arts component to the STEM focus by coordinating field trips to local shows and performances. For example, the students attended a concert by the Metropolitan Youth Symphony in November and are leading a STEM+ Arts session during the STEAM-Xplosion 2015 event, which the Southeast Campus is hosting with the Black Parent Initiative on Feb. 7.
“Every Friday after school, we feel privileged to work with these students, who after a long week at school, are still eager to dig into this stuff,” said Flores.
“This club is a fun learning experience for students from Southeast Portland to meet each other and explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics on a college campus. It definitely supports PCC’s Strategic Plan,” he explained.