The Cooke STEM Academy in Detroit held its Career Day in February 2017. Several EEB faculty and students answered the call to give presentations to students at the pre-K to sixth grade school.
EEB graduate students Leslie Decker and Xorla Ocloo and Professors Melissa Duhaime and Alexey Kondrashov joined many community members and local leaders who volunteered their time to discuss their individual career paths, the growth in the science, technology, engineering and math careers, and the importance of working hard and aiming high.
Students were exposed to a wide range of professions and STEM career paths, from electrical engineers, evolutionary biologists, infectious disease ecologists, pediatricians, police officers, firefighters, physical therapists, and a Detroit councilperson. Speakers shared valuable information, encouragement and inspiration for students to pursue STEM fields.
Decker, a doctoral student, presented the monarch life cycle and migration behavior to a 2nd grade class. They looked at pictures of monarchs at all stages of life and talked about what makes a successful migrating monarch. “After getting excited about monarch natural history, we talked about the classes you need to take to be a scientist, what scientists do in the field and in the lab, and what the students plan to be when they grow up,” Decker said. Next, with all their newly gained knowledge about monarch biology, the students played a game of “pin the egg on the milkweed.”
“The students were really bright and excited! They were most surprised to learn that butterflies taste with their feet and had lots of questions about how many butterflies there are in North America.”
The experience reminded Decker of how important elementary school teachers are to society and how difficult it is to command the attention of a room full of second graders. “It was a ton of fun,” she said.
She thinks the importance of taking part in these outreach events is so that students can hear about the diversity of scientific careers and what the paths to those different careers look like.
Ocloo, a Frontiers Master's student, presented to a third grade classroom. Ocloo reviewed what STEM subjects they can study and talked about “cool and fun jobs in STEM.” She and the students identified STEM professions from photographs and discussed what those jobs might entail.
“For example, I showed a picture of a marine biologist observing a lion fish and asked them to tell me what the biologist was doing. The students were able to identify the poisonous spikes on the fish.” They talked about where howler monkeys (her main study system) live, watched a video about howler monkeys living in Costa Rica, and she kept them actively engaged by asking them to imitate howler monkey calls.
Ocloo talked briefly about her research and the importance of drinking clean water because sometimes "dirty" water can harbor disease causing parasites. Finally, students drew their dream STEM career and created a "picture the possibilities" board with their art and ideas.
“I was incredibly shocked with how much the student's knew,” Ocloo said. “One student was able to figure out the definition of ecology.” Students identified a dandelion, raccoon and preying mantis – they were familiar with many animals. One student asked if the raccoon was a red fox, which Ocloo said was an awesome guess.
“One student drew a ‘jungle scientist’ as his dream career. It was a fantastic drawing of the student in the jungle with animals. All of the students were enthusiastic and eager to answer all of the questions. One student thought it was completely crazy that I teach college students as a college student,” which she found really funny.
The experience brought Ocloo back to her goals of becoming an educator. “Sometimes we get lost in the research and forget the other things we want to accomplish in life.”
Ocloo believes the most important reason to take part in outreach events like the Cooke STEM Academy’s Career Day is “to inspire the next student to be great. That extra push can open so many doors for students.”