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CHCCS Students Attend TechFest in the Park

On Friday, November 9, by invitation, 18 students from Smith Middle School and Chapel Hill High School attended TechFest in Research Triangle Park, one of three STEMFest events offered this year by the organization STEM in the Park. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide STEM activities and opportunities for students who are underrepresented in the IT field: young women, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

STEM in the Park reached out to Jennifer Walker, Cisco Networking Academy teacher and FemSTEM adviser at Chapel Hill High, and she then recruited CHHS students from the Academy of Information Technology, CTE Cisco Academy courses and the club FemSTEM. Darren Bell, of Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate (BRMA), invited Smith Middle School mentees from the program who have expressed interest in technology. The field trip served as a way to inspire and educate students about STEM studies and careers.

“The field trip was an amazing way for me to meet professionals in tech,” said Nicole Bell, president of FemSTEM and CHHS student body president. “I was able to get a better understanding of what my life might look like if I go into a tech field. It helped me understand the endless possibilities the field provides.”

Isaac Rojas- Arreola, from CHHS, said, “The field trip was really fun, and it was cool to get to know how technology is implemented in different fields.”

TechFest speed mentoring The day started with problem-solving sessions on a topic chosen by one of the local STEM organizations. Small groups of  students were paired with one or more STEM professionals, who provided guidance and encouragement through the sessions. Next came sessions with the professionals sharing the “inner workings” of their jobs with hands-on activities and demonstrations. Finally, students engaged in “speed mentoring,” which were multiple, very brief conversations with professionals who described their “real life journeys” in STEM.

“This event allowed our students the opportunity to meet and talk with business leaders in tech fields,” said Walker. She noted that it can be a real challenge for students who “feel different” in certain learning environments. “Students that fall into the underrepresented populations in IT often watch and observe (from the sidelines), because of their gender or race. Events like TechFest give these students a protected environment to explore, without feeling the pressure of being different.”

Britton Bateman, another CHHS student, said, “STEM in the park was a good opportunity for me, especially as a woman, to meet professionals that are already in the field of STEM, which is a male dominated field. This field trip opened my eyes to other realms of STEM including technology, and I was able to talk to other women who are doing things similar to what I would like to do.”

Joseph Munoz-Melesio, with BRMA and a sixth grade student at Smith, said, “It was a lot of fun. The mentors were talking to us, and someone from NASA talked about his work. I told them what I like to do. Gaming,” he said, with a big smile.

TechFest STEM talk “I am thankful to STEM in the Park for organizing this experience for the students,” Walker said, “and to all the business volunteers that worked with the students during the event."

Learn more about CHCCS Academy of Information Technology  CHHS AOIT and Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate BRMA 

Also, STEM in the Park