Legislators, cabinet secretaries and scientists joined two dozen educational organizations from around New Mexico at the Roundhouse Wednesday, Jan. 22, for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation’s 2020 STEAM Day at the Legislature. Approximately 350 house and senate members, legislative session workers, community members, student groups, parents and children participated in hands on activities and visited with STEAM advocates.
LANL Foundation Education Enrichment Director Mike Dabrieo summarized the STEAM Day message, stressing that “STEAM can no longer be seen as an extracurricular activity. It’s a vital piece of modern learning.”
“STEAM jobs are the fasted growing sector in the United States and the world, yet classrooms still struggle to find time for science class, districts struggle to find funds for support materials and training and elementary teachers continue to be undertrained in effective project-based instruction,” Dabrieo said. “We’re all here today to say that we need to do better and that we’re ready to do the hard work necessary to do that.”
This year’s theme was Get Excited and Engaged in STEAM! Visitors experimented with a wind tunnel provided by Explora, saw a demonstratuib of how the New Mexico State Environment Departmentdeals with contaminated ground water and built creative LEGO structures with New Mexico State University’s Resource Network and STEM Outreach Center. Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Community Partnership Program office shared information on the first annual Governor’s STEM Challenge. Velarde Elementary and 4-H showed off their activities as Northern New Mexico’s first 4-H school. Also on hand were Girl Scouts of New Mexico, Pajarito Environmental Education Center, the Institute for STEM Education, New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Sundance Educational Consulting, STEM Santa Fe andMesa Prieta Petroglyph Project. These organizations, all dedicated to STEAM education in New Mexico, were able to network and share collaboration ideas with the STEAM Day visitors and each other.
2019 New Mexico Science Teacher Association Teacher of the Year, Jessica Sanders attended as President of the New Mexico Science Teachers Association. She called STEAM “the basis of everything.”
“It is inquiry, it’s observation, it’s how we’re going to grow our own into the wonderful scientists that they can be and keep them in the State of New Mexico and keep growing in New Mexico,” Sanders said.
Each exhibitor brought their own perspective on STEAM education. Alanie Rael, facilitator at Girls, Inc., sees STEAM as a way to nurture a “new generation of children with really bright minds” who can “bring new ideas, new ways of living to the world that are really going to benefit our state in particular and the rest of the country.” Molly Parsons, director of education & interpretation at Santa Fe Botanical Garden, focused on how STEAM can get kids outside and help “every kid to be successful in creating their own way of understanding the world around them.” Sally Maxwell, education specialist at Audubon New Mexico believes STEAM helps prepare students “to fight climate change and to fight for the future of our planet.”
LANL Foundation Founder and N.M. State Representative (D–District 41) Susan K. Herrera praised the organizations presenting at the Roundhouse during a noon press conference.
“Sometimes we do little things. We have a little piece of legislation or you’re running a little program,” Herrera said. “But you all make profound differences in the lives of children, and I hope you know that and I hope you carry that with you.”
Herrera also stressed the importance of supporting professional development for teachers, an important aspect of the LANL Foundation’s Inquiry Science Education Consortium (ISEC) program, which now serves 12,000 students and provides professional development and in school support to approximately 600 teachers in 47 Northern New Mexico schools. Herrera founded the program.
Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley discussed STEAM career opportunities and the success of the first New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge, which his department organized in partnership with the New Mexico Public Education Department and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“That is the sort of thing that we need to keep pressing: that kind of energy, that kind of creativity, that kind of emphasis. And if we do that, we’re going to lead,” McCamley said. “Governor Lujan Grisham wants us to be leaders, not followers, here in New Mexico. She wants us to be trendsetters nationwide.”
Gwen Perea Warniment, deputy secretary of teaching, learning and assessment at the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), conveyed a message from the governor.
“We have been given a charge, a really important statement on behalf of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and it’s ‘Investing for tomorrow and delivering results today,’” Perea Warniment said.
Perea Warniment noted that PED’s approach to STEAM education is culturally and linguistically a sustainable, grounded in the values of local communities.
Dr. Harshi Mukundan, deputy group leader to the Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy Group and team leader for the Chemistry Biomedical Research Team at LANL, is also IF/THEN ambassador for the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Mukundan urged STEAM professionals to devote time to young students in order to generate excitement in STEAM learning and pursuing STEAM careers.
“This is important so those stereotypes and perceptions that negatively impact children early in life and prevent them from pursuing STEM careers are broken once and for all,” Mukundan said. “Gender stereotypes in science are quite prominent, and most children, if you ask them, will attribute a scientist to being a male rather than a female. And these factors can intimidate young children, especially girls, from pursuing STEM education. But we can begin to change these factors if people can just meet and engage with students that are interested in pursuing science careers.”
Youth journalists from the Taos-based media program True Kids 1 (https://truekids1.org/), in collaboration with UNM-Taos, interviewed and produced broadcast interviews throughout the day and videoed the press conference in its entirety..