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NMSI STEM Adventure Arms Scientist-Mom to Inspire Her Kids

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I have two main roles: scientist working as a research technician and laboratory manager at The University of Oklahoma, and mom of two kids, ages 7 and 10. When I heard about NMSI’s Summer STEM Adventure, I signed them right up, and they were so pumped.
 
I was a little concerned about whether they could connect over the virtual setting, since this has been a struggle for us during the pandemic, but it wasn’t an issue. They both immediately connected with the moderators and presenters for all three activities.

103A2766.jpgMy 7-year-old tuned in to the story about inclined planes and raced around the house looking for examples. She surprised me with how she set up her inclined plane, opposite of how I would have done it.
 
The facilitator let the kids explore and come up with their own ideas. They were so excited to test their boats in our kiddie pool, and it wasn’t long until they put on their suits and jumped in, too!
 
One thing they especially enjoyed was hearing all the pennies that the boats of other kids across the country were holding. They wished they could cheer them on and see the boats themselves.
 
In the last activity, the kids really keyed into the speaker’s descriptions of sound. The sound wave machine was a brilliant and simple way to describe the properties of waves.
 
I could tell that the night made a lasting impression. I came home from work the next day and discovered that my 7-year-old had filled a box with water and was trying to build a better boat.
 

From STEM Adventure to Science Lab
 
One of the roles I fill in my lab is being the outreach coordinator. I immediately saw how I could use the sound machine from the STEM NOLA session in my own STEM outreach. We are a neuroscience lab that studies weakly electric fish – wonderful animals that use electricity to communicate and sense their environment. The “weakly” electric fish are distinguished from the strongly electric fish, such as the electric eel.
 
Our lab uses an amplifier to pick up the signal from the electric fish and translate it into sound, which is one of the best moments for all participants.
 
Some of the fish send these electric signals in waves, and I have struggled to communicate, especially to my younger audiences, why it sounds like a tone when our amplifiers pick up the signal.
 
The sound machine the STEM NOLA team presented at NMSI’s Summer Adventure is a great method, and the team presented the wave properties beautifully. This has really helped me with ways to visualize the concepts of frequency and amplitude.
 
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Embracing STEM Diversity
 
Community outreach is one of the many aspects of my job that I enjoy, and I’m glad that I followed my heart, knowing there would be a career for me without a doctorate.
 
I had my first child in graduate school, and I knew that pursuing a doctorate would not be feasible for our family. At that time, there was still not a lot of representation of alternative STEM careers – ones that aren't professors at universities.
 
Something I personally appreciated about the Summer STEM Adventure was the diversity of scientists, engineers, science communicators and graduate students that were presenting and moderating. There are so many ways to have a career in STEM, and all of them can be fulfilling professionally. However, these roles are often hidden away and don’t get seen.
 
I always appreciate opportunities for my children to engage with STEM – but also to witness individuals and organizations breaking the stereotypes of what it is to be a person working in a STEM field.

Learn more about the OU electric fish lab at OUelectricfish.com or get in touch with me at rosaliemaltby.com
 
Editor’s note: Are you from a military-connected family or impacted community with PreK-12 children? If so, we welcome you to join our next come-and-go Summer STEM Adventure from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. PST (2:30 to 5:30 p.m. EST) Saturday, Aug. 15. Register and find out more at nms.org/families.
 
Not military-connected? Check back soon in the families link above for more details about our Back-to-School STEM Adventure on Sept. 10.