Metro Atlanta Universities' STEM Programs

Metro Atlanta Universities' STEM Programs

By Ken Abramczyk


As science, technology, engineering and math fields advance at mind-numbing speeds, educators know K-12 STEM instruction is critical in that tomorrow’s leaders must master these topics. While all of Georgia’s colleges and universities recognize the importance of STEM education at the collegiate level, many of them are working to promote STEM at the K-12 level as well, upgrading programs, initiatives and offerings to K-12 students and teachers.

“Research shows that science and engineering instruction often is not prioritized in elementary schools, and this lack of priority is exacerbated in underserved and under-resourced schools,” says Amanda Buice, executive director of the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers, headquartered at Kennesaw State University. “Yet, STEM skills are essential tools for solving the greatest problems of our time and understanding the world around us.”

The Georgia Institute of Technology

The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, hosts a multitude of programs through its Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC). Now in its 30th year, CEISMC brings high-quality STEM education to PreK through grade 12 students. Georgia Tech students help with instruction and coordination of some of the programs.

For instance, CEISMC schedules a KIDS Club for younger elementary students and STEAM for grades seven through 12 on Saturdays. These programs are “designed to give students STEM experience,” says Lizanne DeStefano, executive director of CEISMC and professor of psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “They can work on messy, big projects that a teacher may not want to take on in a classroom.”

The STEAM workshops drew 300 kids to Georgia Tech’s campus last year. Students dissected a squid, built a roller coaster and worked on game development at some of the workshops. Students are interested in robotics as well, DeStefano says. “We get them to think of robotics and technology as a way of solving society’s problems,” she explains. “We try to expose them to robotics and technology, get them excited about these fields and put them on a path to do great things.”

CEISMC’s programs encourage in-person, hands-on learning, but COVID-19 changed all of that. To keep students involved, CEISMC launched the STEAM whistle online program in March 2020, compiling and distributing kits for students with projects to complete at home. The kits included building materials for a civil engineering project, and a coding project used Earsketch, a software that helps students learn core topics in computer science, music and music technology. “The kids learn coding through music mixing,” DeStefano says. Students also can lease iPad, tablets or Chrome books, then ship them back or drop them off at schools for this project. The program was so beneficial in the fall of 2020, as many students remained at home, that CEISMC extended it through this year.

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Georgia State University

Georgia State University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) offers pre-college initiatives for students who are interested in the human brain, nervous system and neuroscience. High school students can attend short courses at the school during the summer. The CBN focuses on state-of-the-art research on the brain mechanisms that underlie behavior and recruits young people from all over metro Atlanta to join in science education programs.

“High school students often have their interest in neuroscience piqued when they take a psychology class,” says Jennifer Walcott, project coordinator for the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. “There are not many neuroscience programs at that level.”

The Neuroscience School fills that need. Courses include a neurological boot camp, advanced courses on neurological disorders and an optogenetics lab in which students study the technique scientists use to manipulate neurons using light. A scientific communication camp to examine scientific writing and data visualization is expected to be scheduled for the summer of 2022. Additionally, graduate students visit high school classrooms during STEM nights or science nights at local high schools. The Yerkes National Primate Research Center also loans out a model of the brain for discussions with students.

High school students interested in neuroscience are also drawn to the Atlanta Regional Brain Bee, a national brain trivia competition for high school students hosted by CBN. CBN co-sponsors the event with the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience. The 2022 competition is scheduled for March 5, with workshops for participating students on Feb. 5 and Feb. 22.

The Institute on Neuroscience (ION), which offers an eight-week summer internship for high school students who excel in science and are interested in research, was put on hiatus due to COVID. “We believe it will be back in 2023,” Walcott says. High school students who excel in science and are interested in research should check for updates for the 2023 school year.

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Kennesaw State University

The Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers (GYSTC), a private, not-for-profit educational organization designed to increase interest in STEM subjects, is headquartered at Kennesaw State University and has eight regional centers across the state. The centers are managed by science educators to plant the STEM “seeds of knowledge” early in students’ education.

“Realizing that high school is often too late to develop a love for STEM subjects, GYSTC focuses on increasing interest and enthusiasm in grades K through eight,” says Buice. “Waiting until middle school to give students equal access to science means they have less time to develop important thinking and problem-solving skills.”

For students, teachers and families, GYSTC offers in-class field trips, virtual classes, Saturday science events, after-school activities and summer camps. The regional centers serve as lending libraries for equipment for teachers, as well as host Family Science and STEM Nights. A recent lesson highlighted how organisms adapt to live in a certain geographic region, while another demonstrated how light travels as students constructed a kaleidoscope. The center also hosts STEM Teacher Academies and other sessions for teachers.

“Skills gained from exposure to STEM enable students to ask questions, obtain information and think critically,” Buice says. “Scientific thinking and understanding are essential not just for STEM professionals, but for all people as they navigate the world.” Buice says that by providing young children with problem-solving skills, more of them are encouraged to pursue STEM studies and careers.

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University of Georgia

Students who want to study marine science and coastal ecology can participate in classes and workshops at the University of Georgia’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium, located on Skidaway Island just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. UGA students and researchers study coastal ecology and marine environmental issues at the center. Additionally, according to Anne Lindsay, associate director for Marine Education, many Atlanta-area students in grades five and up visit and stay onsite for two or three days.

During their visit, students can participate in field exploration and hands-on labs in which they study plankton or invertebrates, Lindsay says. They also can ride in the Sea Dawg, a 43-foot research vessel, on which they can gather field data and take river samples to study water quality. “They can study plankton and document invasive species,” Lindsay says. The students also familiarize themselves with lab equipment.

Virtual learning expanded during COVID, as the center initiated pilot programs. “We can use it to engage students and teachers, who aren’t able to travel to the coast, and meet their needs,” she notes. “It helps us build bridges with the public and helps us expand our programs.”

The general public also can attend workshops to learn about microplastics surveys, phytoplankton monitoring and marine debris surveys. In addition, the center hosts a Youth Conservation Summit in February for sixth to ninth graders to learn about ocean conservation from experts and network with other students.

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Life University Sets the Groundwork for Tomorrow’s STEM Leaders

Students seeking STEM careers can look to Life University in Marietta to forge a path toward success.

While known as a leader in chiropractic education, Life offers an array of programs that are geared toward creating the next generation of STEM leaders, whether it is instructing the critical basics of biology or outlining the complex interdependence of mind and body in biopsychology. In fact, those are just two of Life University’s 14 undergraduate degrees in everything from health and social sciences to business and interdisciplinary studies. Life University’s STEM instruction establishes a learning foundation and appreciation for impacting the lives of others, the community and the world.

“We have some very unique opportunities for student learning” says Catherine Faust, associate dean of academic administration, College of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies. “For example, students in the exercise science-sport health science programs are using equipment to assess human performance that you may not find in large state schools.” What’s more, she adds, “What sets us apart from other schools is our size. We have small class sizes where there is ample opportunity for the students to interact with the faculty in an environment that utilizes the latest technology.”

The following Bachelor of Science programs are just some of the undergraduate programs at Life University that provide an entrance into STEM fields:

• Biology: This curriculum is “grounded in a philosophy that is deeply respectful of the innate intelligence of life—the ability of all organisms to be conscious, self-developing, self-maintaining and self-healing.” Graduates are equipped to enter occupations such as botanist, marine biologist, animal technician or environmental technician.

• Biopsychology: Students explore the impact of human behavior, emotion and cognition on health. Courses help students prepare for chiropractic or medical school, dentistry, physical or occupational therapy, or they follow career tracks in business, education, research or other industries.

• Human Ecology: This program instructs students on advancing methods to achieve sustainability. Students can focus on People, Politics and Social Change or Science Sustainability and Resource Management.

• Computer Information Management: Students studying for associate’s or bachelor’s degrees prepare for positions in technology development to create mobile apps, interactive websites and databases for businesses and healthcare organizations.

Additional STEM programs are available in dietetics, culinary nutrition, exercise science, health coaching, nutrition and psychology.

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