NAS LEMOORE — In the halls of Akers Elementary School, newly-anointed “STEM-mates” could be seen giving each other high-fives.

Thursday, students at the school were visited by two University of Alabama in Huntsville/NASA engineers and two STEM education staff members from the Missile Defense Agency.

The STEM ambassadors presented to over 700 students throughout the day to talk to them about what STEM — aka science, technology, engineering and math — is all about.

Deltra Davis, program analyst and STEM ambassador, and Ernest Valine, senior education outreach specialist, both from the Missile Defense Agency, visited students to talk about what engineers do and conducted age-appropriate activities like coloring or testing inflatable missiles.

Davis said it is part of her job to go out to rural communities and other local communities to do demonstrations to expose kids to STEM and get them to think about possibly becoming engineers when they grow up.

“It gives the children some excitement while also learning about what we do at the agency and how we use STEM,” Davis said.

She said the President is supportive and the head of the Missile Defense Agency has dedicated resources to help teachers educate students about STEM.

“Hopefully the kids get excited about this too and understand what STEM is,” Davis said.

At the end of the school day, the University of Alabama in Huntsville/NASA engineers launched a high altitude balloon for students to track and study data. The engineers used software to predict where it’s going to go according to weather patterns.

The balloon is supposed to go all the way to Texas and students can follow its pattern through an internet link.

The day was coordinated by Karla Orosco, a seventh grade science teacher at Akers. This was the second year the school was visited.

Orosco said she attended a week-long STEM summer institute for teachers provided by the Missile Defense Agency last summer in Virginia, where attendees toured several naval bases, learned about missile defense systems and participated in hands-on STEM activities.

After attending the institute, Orosco said the agency sent her science kits to work with students and she put a request in for the outreach program to visit the school. The team also visited Central Elementary School on Wednesday and Stratford Elementary on Friday.

“Science is, I think, the fun subject that gets left out,” said the teaching veteran of 25 years.

Orosco said she wants to provide students with all the opportunities and tools to explore different career pathways and get them excited about their futures early.

“This plants the seed,” she said.

Orosco said the students really enjoyed the day because they got to talk to actual engineers and she hopes to make this an ongoing partnership.

She said the school is very supportive and she hopes to have the program come back out to do districtwide STEM training and activities for teachers in the future.

The day was only one part of a month-long effort to expose the students to college and career opportunities.

Last week, Orosco took all 100 seventh-grade students to visit University of California, Berkeley, — her alma mater — where they toured the College of Environmental Design, the campus and other facilities.

Thursday night, the school had a Career and College event with presenters from a variety of backgrounds and professions.

Orosco said the goal was to expose students to people they don’t get to see or interact with on a daily basis.

“Any opportunity I can bring to my students, I’m going to do it,” Orosco said.

Both events were funded mostly by Akers Principal Heiko Sweeney and other funding from the Akers Parent Teacher Club.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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