Mobile STEM Lab Travels to Area High Schools

MERNA—Local organizations have teamed up to create a collection of “maker spaces” to engage students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).  Drawing inspiration from Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and working with Chad Johnson, representatives from Becton Dickinson (BD), Custer Public Power District (CPPD), and the CAPABLE program teamed up to produce a trailer full of STEM stations.

One of the goals of the mobile STEM lab is to expose students to the skills necessary for manufacturing jobs and other career fields.

“It’s opened a lot more opportunities for us to get into more of a variety of jobs in the future,” said Reece Huhman, a junior at Anselmo-Merna. Junior Logan Maring had similar sentiments. “It just opens up a whole new world to us,” he said.

BD, CPPD, and CAPABLE put forth funds and also received a grant to turn an idea into a reality in just one year. The $120,000 hands-on project includes a 3D printer, CNC mill, virtual reality, manufacturing, robotics, and sensory labs, as well as a 2D vinyl cutting machine.

 “Using our creativity to, you know, make a keyboard you can use with your feet rather than your hands,” said Mattie Bumgarner, a junior. “We’re just really thankful we have this,” said Kourtney Safranek, also a junior.

The trailer began making its way around the area in October and STEM Team Lead Jon Nixon said the plan for the lab is to continue traveling to area schools for years to come. Developing the stations required the collaborative efforts of various teams and Nixon said watching students interact with the stations has been the most rewarding part of the project.

“If you look at the statistics, there are quite a few industrial jobs that will open up in the near future and this really gets the students involved in science, technology, engineering, math. It gives them a head start in those programs with the intent, of when they do go to college, that it’s an area they want to get involved with,” Nixon said.

Students have the opportunity to be challenged, resourceful, and also creative. Science teacher Thane Lewis hopes students will take advantage of the hands-on learning available to them.

“The real benefit that I see with this program is that I can’t teach this stuff. The best things I can do, I can give you background information that explains the theories of a lot of this stuff but until you go touch it and do it, there’s very little you’re going to get from me until it’s connected to the real world,” Lewis said.

Schools utilizing the lab include Arnold, Callaway, Litchfield, Broken Bow, McPherson County, Anselmo-Merna, Mullen, Ansley, Loup County, Sandhills, Sargent, Stapleton, and Thedford.

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