Students confront disaster in STEMposium workshops
May 11, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany - A group of 90 students from Department of Defense Dependents Schools throughout Europe met for six days in Oberwesel to take on a tough project.
They were there to save the world.
It was the first-ever Europe STEMposium, and from April 22-27 the students used their engineering skills to try and solve a problem that involved an earthquake, flooding and stored nuclear fuel rods about to overheat. The symposium's motto was, "Confront Disaster… Engage Your Mind… Save the World."
Frank Pendzich, instructor of engineering technology at Wiesbaden High School, organized the event, which took place at the Jugendgästehaus overlooking the Rhein River. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and organizations encouraging students to study those subjects frequently use the acronym.
Five students from Wiesbaden attended, and like students from other schools, none of them were allowed to be on the same team, Pendzich said.
The idea was for students to meet new people and learn how to work well with people with whom they are unfamiliar, Pendzich said.
For Ashley Barclift, a freshman from Wiesbaden who won a second-place engineering award and was on the team that came in first place, meeting new people at the symposium was the best part about the symposium. Her twin sister Alexis Barclift also said she enjoyed collaborating with students from other schools.
Ashley, who started building robots in seventh grade and plans to be a robotics engineer, won her award for a robot designed to turn on a control switch to power that would turn on the cooling system for stored nuclear fuel rods.
Martin Hurst, a sophomore from Wiesbaden who won a first-place engineering award, said he knew going into the event that he wanted to be an engineer, but now he is leaning toward becoming a robotics engineer.
"It was a great experience all around," Hurst said.
Each team had a student acting as a bio technical engineer, a nuclear engineer, robotics engineer, an environmental engineer, a green technology engineer and a geophysics engineer, Pendzich said.
Matthew Garcia, a junior from Wiesbaden, said he also plans to be an engineer, and the symposium was a good way to learn about the different job fields. It was also a great experience to work on a realistic problem, he said.
"It gave us a chance to feel like real engineers," Garcia said.
Hunter Lunasin, a freshman from Wiesbaden, said he liked working on a team with other students on the problem. "Knowing that the scenario could happen, I was scared, but it felt good to know there are people who can solve the problems," he said.
Pendzich said he has learned from his years as a teacher that when education is relevant and engaging, students become capable to performing much more difficult work.
About 45 adults also participated in the event, Pendzich said. Each team had an adviser, and five experts in various engineering fields helped facilitate discussions and work with the students, he said.
The students received hints about the possible disaster they would have to work on before the event, Pendzich said, but did not know the exact scenario.
During the week, in addition to handling the disaster, students attended hands-on seminars that targeted various areas of engineering and science, Pendzich said.
In addition, representatives from the U.S. Air Force demonstrated weather, disaster response, and robotics technology, Pendzich said.
Students also went on study trips to the European Space Agency, Juwi Energy Park and the Koblenz River Locks, Dam and Fish Pass, Pendzich said. And if that wasn't enough, each evening the students listened to a guest speaker on STEM careers.
Pendzich said he hopes to hold a STEMposium again next year.