On Thursday, May 2, more than 100 Massachusetts high school students gathered in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Harrington Gymnasium to publicly declare their commitment to studying science, technology, engineering and math in college.
Mass STEM Hub, which coordinated the signing day, likened the event to those held for student athletes who plan to pursue their sports after high school.
The event offered more than 300 high school students the opportunity to showcase STEM projects before industry professionals who offered feedback on their work in real time. Think: like a science fair, except the judges work for electric and biomedical companies.
The Mass STEM Hub Student Showcase included much loftier projects than the old-hat potato clock, however. Daria Soto and Sarah Tran, seniors at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, for example, were excited to present their prototype for The Clawsome Tunnel, a triangular cat tunnel functioning as both a pet toy and a grooming device.
Their presentation included an in-depth marketing plan, quality control protocol, a search engine optimization strategy for their website, and an estimated profit of $86,400 annually. Flanked by half a dozen judges, the pair soared through a lengthy slideshow detailing the trials and errors they experienced while developing their product. Fittingly, Soto plans to study animal science at the University of Connecticut in the fall; Tran will study biology at Worcester State University.
Other students followed a more traditional route – posing a question and trying to find the answer. Such was the case for Milford High School seniors Juliana Gagne, Caroline Cerqueira, and Ariana Covino, who sought to answer whether or not hand temperature impacts a person’s heart rate. (Their conclusion: yes, but nominally.) All three committed to studying STEM in college — Gagne will study biology at the University of Vermont, Cerqueira will study science at the UMass Dartmouth and Covino will study nursing at the University of Maine.
Underclassmen had a chance to show off their STEM work. Dylan LaPorto, a sophomore at Hopedale High School, used a coding program to develop a game where users decode secret messages related to the Boston Bruins. Why? Because, he said, he’s a big fan of the team.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a guest speaker at the event, praised the high school seniors at the showcase for their commitment to the STEM field, and asked that the underclassmen there, who haven’t yet gone through the college application process, to continue to follow their passions.
She described the showcase as an opportunity to develop technical skills as well as to form a connection to the workplace and the employers that need students like these to join their workforce.
Students who competed in the Mass STEM Hub Student Showcase came from schools participating in the organization’s Project Lead the Way initiative, which helps schools execute extensive STEM curriculums and encourages students to participate in hands-on science projects. For many, the WPI event was the culmination of going through that program.
“There’s a lot to celebrate,” Polito said.