Middle-schoolers get hands on science and engineering at YES! conference
One hundred twenty-seven local middle school students got to experience science and engineering first hand at the ninth annual Young Engineers and Scientists! of Ridgecrest conference on Sept. 28 at China Lake.
The students, who came from Murray and Monroe middle schools as well as REALMS, Immanuel Christian School, Trona, Inyokern, St. Ann, Lake Isabella, and home schooling, spent the day participating in three of the 15 available 55-minute workshops. The workshops delved into such topics as building bridges with pasta, creating parachutes, building hovercrafts, making polymers, and making ice cream with liquid nitrogen at the food science workshop.
“It is awesome to see the kids get excited about something they’ve learned while they are at the event,” said YES! organizer Erica Beeler.
The day opened with an address from Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, NAWCWD commander, who talked about how vital science, technology, engineering and math is to China Lake’s very existence. He said that defending the country requires a lot of thought, education, and experience in very technical fields, with mathematicians, scientists and engineers bringing this capability to the Department of Defense.
“That’s the reason this base is here,” Dillon said. “This base would not be here if there were not a need for people who have that expertise to gather together and to work on difficult problems, and to deliver the results of their efforts to the people who need these tools.”
He also pointed out how lessons learned that day could benefit the students years down the road.
“There will be some common threads among all of the different things that you might be interested in,” Dillon said. “One common thread will be – believe it or not, and I’m not sure if you’ve seen enough math or have seen enough science yet – but math and science and engineering will be at the center. It will be integral to the challenges you need to solve in the future, to the things you would like to build in order to improve your life, to the problems that need to be addressed.”
After Dillon’s remarks, the students split off into teams to attend the first workshop. Many of the old favorite workshops were back this year, in addition to a few new ones: Rowdy Robotics, Edible Earthquakes, Soda Rocket Fountains (the “top secret” activity), and Vinegar and Baking Soda Cars (developed in the span of 30 minutes when the planned water bottle rocket activity had to be scrapped due to wind).
Between the first and second workshops, students heard from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, as well as a China Lake geologist regarding the recent earthquakes.
The event was made possible by the work of many volunteers.
“I would like to add that the YES! of Ridgecrest board could not do this without each and every one of our volunteers,” Beeler said. “This year we had 60 volunteers, who took their own time to develop workshops, plan the event, raise the funds, work with the schools, and spend their Saturday helping students learn the joys of STEM and how it fits into the world around us.”
Although this year’s event just wrapped up, it’s time to start looking toward next year’s, which will be the 10th annual.
“For our 10-year anniversary, we’d like to bring back Mr. Mark Storch, who originally kicked us off, and a student from year one to talk about how the conference benefitted them and what they are doing now,” Beeler said.