CCV-Winooski wrapped up its first Science Fair this week, highlighted with a visit and science experiment conducted by Miss Vermont 2015.
Alayna Westcom, the first Miss America contestant to perform a science experiment for the talent portion of her act, spent some time on Tuesday in the Janice Couture Community Room speaking about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and entertaining a crowd of about 25 with her Elephant’s Toothpaste experiment.
“I’m all about the hands-on,” Westcom told the audience. “When I was in the 6th and 7th grade and I decided I wanted to be a doctor, it was because we dissected chicken wings. That’s how I fell in love with science…and that’s how you get kids to love science.”
Standing in front of three large glass flasks, the 23-year-old Bakersfield resident explained that the experiment was a decomposition reaction resulting from the mixing of hydrogen peroxide, potassium iodide, and Dawn dish soap. The result, she said, is that the hydrogen peroxide is converted to oxygen gas and water. In layperson’s terms, the mix rapidly transforms into foam and shoots out of the flask about 8 feet into the air—similar, one might say, to toothpaste shooting out of a tube, but on an elephant-sized scale.
The visit was part of a three-day event held at the center and put on by the College’s Science Co-op. Along with the visit from Miss Vermont, a STEM job and internship fair was held in the student lounge and on Wednesday a guest speaker from the Vermont State Parks was scheduled to speak.
The event was intended to raise awareness about the STEM offerings CCV has for students and the opportunities to work and study in the field with organizations and companies all over Vermont, said Jarod Waite, an academic coordinator at the Winooski center. Speaking just before the start of the job fair, Waite said the turnout up to that point had been good and he expected the fair to bring more students in.
“We spoke to about 40 students yesterday and about 20 to 25 came to see Miss Vermont,” he said. “This afternoon we have eight community partners who will be here and they’ll be talking about full-time jobs, part-time jobs, internships, and scholarships that they have available.”
On Tuesday there was a lot of interest in learning about those opportunities: students filed in and out of the student lounge, picked up free hot or not dogs, and then spent time speaking with representatives from the Vermont State Parks, Vermont Genetics Network, and Vermont EPSCoR, to name a few. Cara McKinnon, a 25-year-old student hoping to transfer to a four-year school to study microbiology said she was glad CCV was holding the science fair, and in particular, the job fair.
“Right now I’m trying to find an internship for the summer and I feel like I really want to be more integrated into what I want to do for a job,” McKinnon said, noting that she was interested in speaking with the representative for the Vermont Genetics Network. “I think that would be an interesting one to work with, but even if they are just able to give me referrals to other people I can talk to I’d be very happy.”
Waite, who organized the fair with fellow coordinator Aimee Stephenson, said student interest in STEM was growing at the College and the newly-formed Science Co-op was evidence of that. He said currently the group, which utilizes CCV’s online learning software, Moodle, to facilitate activities, has about 550 active members from all areas of the state. And a growing interest in STEM, Miss Vermont told the audience moments before, would be important for the future.
“STEM education is applicable to everything,” Westcom said. “Every career that you’re going to have is going to have a little piece of science, technology, engineering or math, somewhere deep down in there. If you don’t have the foundation from a STEM education, it’ll be harder for you to pursue different careers.”