Teachers become students of STEM at Penn College

Published 07.03.2024

Photos by Alexandra Butler, photographer/photo editor

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Seven secondary school teachers representing different regions of the state became students of STEM during a recent weeklong externship at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Supported by a PAsmart grant, STEM Careers Re-Imagined: An Industry and Education Collaborative, the program engaged educators in activities rooted in science, math and engineering and supplied them with resources for future classroom use.

Brenda Grab, a first grade teacher in the Montgomery Area School District, applies final touches to the mini-car she made with a 3D printer at Pennsylvania College of Technology. Grab was one of seven secondary teachers to attend a weeklong externship at the college, where they experienced STEM-related activities. The educators left with resources – including their own 3D printer – to incorporate STEM in their classrooms this fall.

A mix of elementary, middle school and high school teachers, the participants received hands-on experience in a variety of disciplines, including concrete science, civil engineering technology, engineering design technology, manufacturing, nondestructive testing and polymer engineering technology. Penn College faculty led the workshops.

“It was a small but dynamic group of teachers, and they loved working with our faculty,” said Kathy D. Chesmel, assistant dean of materials science and engineering technology and organizer of the externship. “It was a great way to get the teachers on campus, experience activities they can implement in their own classrooms and build relationships with experts in various areas of STEM.”

“I’ve learned something through each of them,” said Deana Patson, a teacher in the Wyalusing Area School District, who oversees a STEM-dedicated space in the high school library. “I’ve been able to meet with the instructors and collaborate with the people who are here in the externship to learn about smaller-scale projects that I can do at my home school.”

One project that the teachers can do come fall focused on 3D printing. They spent part of the week building a 3D printer, using software to design a plastic mini-race car and printing the car. The educators left the externship with the printer, filament and the modeling file. Parameters of the car – such as width and length – can be changed in the file so users can gauge the impact of different variables.

“We wanted the teachers to be able to take something with them that they can bring back to their students and repeat even if they don’t know much about modeling software,” Chesmel explained.

James Kofskie, a science teacher at Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School, appreciated that plan.

“I’ll be able to do some activities with the 3D printer. I think the students will be glad to see something different in the classroom,” he said. “Introducing something new to them will give them joy, and they’ll appreciate doing it.”

During a visit to the Dr. Welch Workshop: A Makerspace at Penn College, the teachers participated in several classroom-ready STEM activities to replicate at their own schools. The take-home bag included material for their students to make paper airplanes featuring flexible circuits and tiny lights.

“During the school year, they’ll also have access to lending kits, which are lessons that we have boxed up with all the supplies for their classrooms,” Chesmel said. “We have kits for manufacturing, polymers and water purification.”

To help them prepare their own lessons, Amanda Fair, a STEM and online learning specialist for BLaST Intermediate Unit 17, presented the new Pennsylvania K-12 standards for teaching science, technology and engineering, as well as environmental literacy and sustainability.

The seven secondary educators pause for a group photo with their plastic mini-race cars (from left): Deana Patson, Wyalusing Area School District; Michelle DeMeno, Norristown Area School District; Brenda Grab, Montgomery Area School District; Jennifer Bowman, Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit; Christine Coyle, Bentworth School District; James Kofskie, Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School; and Heath Hines, Northwest Area School District.

“Especially with STEM, I feel there is so much out there, and you really can’t tackle it all by yourself. You can grow so much faster in your learning through collaborative experiences,” remarked an appreciative Christine Coyle, a teacher at Bentworth High School in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Coyle also runs a nonprofit organization in Washington County that introduces STEM experiences to students.

“I’m just trying to gain some knowledge of how to do some more practical applications of STEM and understand the technology better because I don’t know all of it,” she said. “The other part of it is to understand how to help our students start thinking about their career options.”

Patson agreed.

“I want to become more aware of the career side of STEM. I can teach skills with the software and hardware. But now where is that going to take them in the future? So this has been a great opportunity,” she said.

STEM offers ample career options. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that STEM jobs will grow nearly four times faster than non-STEM jobs through 2032. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for all STEM occupations is $97,980, compared to $44,670 for non-STEM jobs.

The teachers were able to see some STEM professionals at work, thanks to a tour of West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. in Williamsport. The Corporate Tomorrow Maker is a designer and manufacturer of injectable pharmaceutical packaging and delivery systems.

“The trip to West was an eye-opener for some of them who had never been in a manufacturing facility,” Chesmel said. “We talked a lot about unconscious bias and people’s outdated perceptions of manufacturing as dark, dirty and dangerous. West’s facility reflects the reality of manufacturing. It’s amazingly clean, high-tech and air conditioned.”

Pending funding, the college hopes to bring the teachers back to campus next spring. This time, their students would be invited to join them in hands-on STEM workshops. A similar event in May attracted more than 275 students from 10 counties.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222 for more information.

Grab (kneeling on left) and Patson (kneeling on right) "start their engines" in the mini-car race.
The 3D-printed cars are road (and rug) worthy!
Courtney E. Dunne (kneeling at left), coordinator of academic engagement, joins the educational fun. Chesmel is standing in the background on left.
Prior to the races, Coyle and her fellow teachers designed and built their cars in a college lab.
Experimenting with technology
Looks like a speedy one!
Tools of the trade
Ready to race!
Surveying various STEM applications, the educators get down to business in a concrete science lab.
Joe DiBucci (right), building construction technology instructor, assists Bowman ...
... and DeMeno and Kofskie (standing at right) in their hands-on projects.
In a civil engineering technology classroom, instructor Ryan J. McDonald (at podium), discusses design ...
... midst colorful models, inspiring innovative ideas.
Caleb A. Line (left), makerspace coordinator, involves the educators in projects.
The makerspace workshop offers an ideal venue for creative brainstorming.
Piecing together a sewable circuit wristband
Alex E. Marconnet, engineering design technology instructor, shares project ideas.
Once again, Legos prove to be the building blocks of engineering design! Paul W. Albright (right), instructor of manufacturing engineering technology, engages the guests in exploration.
Chesmel equips the educators with practical STEM applications and lending kits for classroom experimentations.