2017-11-16 / Front Page

STEM Program Offers Employable Skills

By Brooke Constance White

Rogers students, Alita Kuiee and her classmate assemble launch rockets from wrapping paper tubes in the science and technology after-school program. (Photo by Beth Copeley) Rogers students, Alita Kuiee and her classmate assemble launch rockets from wrapping paper tubes in the science and technology after-school program. (Photo by Beth Copeley) It may be hidden, but Arnell Milhouse, believes that every person in the world has an interest in science and technology, even if it’s just the slightest bit. Milhouse, executive director of Providence-based IntraCity Geeks, made it the mission of his nonprofit organization to help students of all backgrounds, from across the state and now at Newport’s Rogers High School, discover that gene within themselves.

Through a generous grant from Drupal Connect, a Newport firm that specializes in Drupal content management systems and is owned by City Councilor John Florez, Milhouse is hosting a 60-hour “STEM Fun-0-One” after-school program for Rogers students. The objective, Milhouse said, is to nurture an interest in science and technology, and provide students with lifelong skills that could lead to employment opportunities after graduation.

During the program, which started on Nov. 6, students design, build and launch rockets, assemble and program self-thinking robots, assist with programming self-driving remote-controlled cars with artificial intelligence, and create their own video game, among other activities.

At specific junctures in the program, parents will be invited to watch the demo project outcomes, during which students will present their findings.

“Modern education is having a difficult time keeping up with the changes and needs of the modern student,” Milhouse said. “After-school expanded learning opportunities are important ways to pique the interests of students. Our fun laboratory learning approach keeps students engaged and turns on their STEM field curiosity gene because it’s all about getting to students early and showing them how much fun science and technology is.”

On the first day of the program, the students were building and flying rockets made out of wrapping paper tubes and documenting their observations. They also learned that many popular items were invented by children and young adults, such as trampolines, TVs, earmuffs and calculators. During the second day, the group learned about thrust and gravity and constructed nose cones and fins out of notecards to help their rockets fly.

"The students seem engaged, curious and more importantly, they're having fun," Florez said. "It's one thing to learn about the principles of aerodynamics in a classroom setting, it's another thing to actually build a rocket with your own hands that can go a couple thousand feet into the air. And that's what really seems to be resonating with the children."

As the program progresses, Milhouse said the students will delve into STEM subjects more and he will share with them his personal story of how science, technology, engineering and math spoke to him as an impoverished young boy when he lived in Massachusetts. His journey out of poverty was difficult, he said, but his interest and natural skills in the technology world, and his eventual career in the industry served as a gateway from hardship to gainful employment.

“We want to make sure these kids know what kinds of opportunities they have available to them because I know when a teacher asked me about college, I hadn’t even thought it was an option,” Milhouse said. “As the year progresses, I’ll tell them more about my life, because what we’re really trying to do here is move the needle and eradicate income inequality by showing these students that they can be successful.”

It’s still early in the program and some students are still deciding whether they’ll stick with it. But for freshman Eric Santos, knowing it would be focused on science and technology was reason enough.

“I’m really looking forward to making video games,” Santos said. “I know we’re going to do fun things here.”

Alita Kuiee, a freshman, is interested in becoming a psychologist after high school but said she wants to get experience in a broad spectrum of science fields.

“I’m dabbling in a variety of different sciences,” she said. “This is one area of science I haven’t tried out yet, so that’s why I’m here.”

The Newport Public Schools work hard to improve student outcomes and increase STEM exposure to students from underserved communities, Milhouse said, which makes them a perfect partner in IntraCity Geeks’ mission to fuel computer science education, innovation and entrepreneurship equally in traditional and underserved markets. Diversity and inclusion for women and people of color in the technology field are important, Milhouse said, and this program aims to achieve high marks in those areas.

“Our plan is to be here for at least four years,” he said. “Next year we’ll continue on with more advanced levels and if these students matriculate through our program all four years, they could graduate and have the skills to get an $80,000 a year salaried job.”

Although schools across the country have joined in the movement to promote coding and other hands-on STEM-related activities that go beyond the standard curriculum, Florez said he’s excited about the potential that students might develop a passion for science, technology and computer coding. This program and others like it are giving young people the technical skills necessary to excel in a 21st-century job market, he said.

“At the very least, I would love for the kids to attain collaboration skills, more problem-solving skills that could help them in their other academic skills and in their life,” he said. “At best I’d love it if these kids could attain skills that would make them employable in the world of software and technology.”

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