STEM Expo exhibit draws hundreds
“My life was fulfilling and I did good things that helped the entire world. ... Work hard and give yourself the credentials so you can live the kind of life you wish and make your own decisions.” Duane ‘digger’ carey, former NASA space shuttle pilot
Scottriana Walker, 11, put her life sciences and math lessons to the test during Saturday’s STEM Expo by using a pumping-heart model to show students and judges the complex workings of the body’s circulatory system.
About 500 middle school students and their parents from area schools attended the Baton Rouge STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics — Expo at the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School. Students competed in a non-traditional science fair that featured units on chemistry, physics, math and technology.
Demonstrations, games, robotics, solar energy demonstrations and a presentation from former NASA space shuttle pilot Duane “Digger” Carey rounded out the program.
Scottriana’s demonstration was among 60 student-led exhibits at the fair, said Tevfik Eski, program director at Kenilworth.
“We want to increase the numbers of students graduating from STEM fields,” Eski said.
Scottriana’s presentation proved Eski’s point.
“As I squeeze the pump, the blood goes through the superior and inferior vena cava,” she told students and judges.
One puzzled student asked her what it all meant.
“Those are the largest veins in the body,” which carry oxygen depleted blood to the heart and then the blood reaches the lungs where it becomes oxygenated, Scottriana replied.
Scottriana’s interest in science developed after she completed her fourth-grade science fair project two years ago.
“I want to be a cardiologist,” Scottriana said.
“Science is a part of everyone’s life and everyone needs to know their heart.”
Kenilworth student Augusta Winfield, 12, used Legos to build a dog sled powered by batteries.
“We’re trying to persuade other students to come and watch our robotics presentation so that one day they may decide to become an engineer,” said Augusta, an aspiring engineer.
Kenilworth Science teacher and STEM coordinator Elkhan Akhundov, said engaging students in science can bring about a “chain reaction” that helps them see themselves in science professions.
The road to space was not an easy one for astronaut Carey, he said.
He told students he stumbled onto his interest in space after he graduated from high school, bought a motorcycle and left home. His future did not appear bright at the time and he also disliked school and he had no plans to go to college.
“But amazing things can happen to you no matter where you grow up,” he told students. Carey said that as a child, he lived in a single-parent home in the projects.
During the late 1970s, while camped out illegally in a tent on a Colorado ranch, he found a magazine that described the launching of a NASA telescope into space.
“Twenty-five years later, there was the Hubble telescope on the back of my space shuttle,” he told students.
Once Carey realized he’d discovered his dream, he wanted to pursue it. He realized that would mean working hard and preparing.
He attended college, earning both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. Carey began his career as a U.S. Air Force pilot and joined NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1996.
In 2002, Carey piloted the space shuttle Columbia in a successful mission to upgrade the Hubble space telescope. He retired in 2004 and now tours the nation as a motivational speaker.
Carey said his outlook on life has changed since his renegade years on a motorcycle in search of a calling.
Looking back on his career, he said, “My life was fulfilling and I did good things that helped the entire world.
“Work hard and give yourself the credentials so you can live the kind of life you wish and make your own decisions,” Carey told students.
The former astronaut said he especially encourages children who grew up as he did in economically depressed environments to challenge themselves to get ahead.
“We need kids growing up in difficult economic systems to be our future leaders,” and to use their challenges to improve life for all people, Carey said.
“Don’t go for normal. Normal doesn’t get it anymore. The challenge for young people is to take the harder courses and opportunities while in school,” he said.
Carey said preparing for space flights requires a lot of preparation, too, similar to the way students do homework to prepare for tests.
“For every hour of space walking, those astronauts practiced about 15 hours in an underwater training ground,” he said.
“Homework is the same thing. It’s about practicing your skills and that’s how you get good at something.”