Students explore possible career paths in STEM

Boys and Girls Club program utilizes technology
Feb. 25, 2014 @ 06:14 PM

Some of the young men and women sat down at computers to be introduced to the world of architecture, while others tinkered with digital music programs or investigated forensics.

Others gathered for tutoring in math or science or worked independently on homework. The rest of the group split up between two outgoing staffers, one teaching about leadership while another got the high school students focused on their futures.

That was the first day of the new STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) program hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of Sanford/Lee County, which kicked off Monday. On Tuesday, a new group was in and doing much of the same.

They'll continue rotating so everyone gets a shot at the computers, the tutoring and the mentoring.

One of the students who worked at the forensics computer station on Monday was Christina Williams, who was working on math homework Tuesday while other students took their turn on one of the 12 computers set up at the club's O.T. Sloan location.

"I could see myself doing it in the future," Williams, a 14-year-old freshman at Lee County High School, said of forensics work. She explained that she was introduced to forensic science — getting fingerprints, identifying chemicals, taking soil samples and doing other data-driven investigative work — in middle school at West Lee, where students have the opportunity to learn about the profession.

But what she really wants to do in the new STEM program, she said, is video production.

The club has a side room devoted entirely to audio-visual endeavors, with two Apple computers, lighting equipment and even a green screen. Everything needed to write, film and edit professional-looking videos can be done without leaving the club.

"They write a script, they edit a script, they practice a script, and then they shoot it and produce it here," said Scott Parker, who is in charge of the club's STEM lab.

Parker, a former high school principal at Grace Christian School, leads the program with help from club staff members, teachers who come in after school and other volunteers. About 80 students have signed up for the program, which is completely free and open to any high schooler living in Lee County. Spots are still open, Parker said; people can sign up by contacting the club at (919) 776-3525.

The point of the STEM lab, according to Parker and others at the club, is to introduce teens to careers they might not have realized existed — and which utilize digital technology, which they grew up using — as well as to give them access to tutoring and high-tech equipment, all of which was paid for by a grant from the state.

"It's stuff they can use to transition into an internship," Parker said.

Another student in the program, Southern Lee High School sophomore Isaiah Monroe, said he's actually not looking at the program as a means to a career — he wants to be a basketball player — but said it is a fun activity to supplement some other Boys and Girls Club programs in which he participates.

Monroe spent Tuesday writing music. It wasn't the former band student's first experience with music, but it was his first time creating it on a computer. He said having played saxophone in middle school benefitted him, but that anyone could do it.

"The background in band does help because it taught me to read music, but it's not necessary," he said.

When students aren't using the computers or working with tutors, they gather around staff members William Johnson and Solomon McAuley. Johnson tackles leadership and McAuley, who also works at Central Carolina Community College, speaks with the students about their future.

Whether it entails college or a career, McAuley said, it's important to get the high schoolers thinking about what comes next and what opportunities school — and their new access to technology at the club — can open up for them.