EQUATE summer STEM outreach gains participants

July 8, 2022

Nebraska EPSCoR’s Emergent Quantum Materials and Technologies (EQUATE) research collaboration is using part of its National Science Foundation funding—overall, $20 million for five years—to lead outreach and education interactions aimed at broadening participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers throughout Nebraska. EQUATE’s summer 2022 outreach arrives after the first full year of the project, with many target audiences and ways to engage them.

EQUATE adds STEM programming with University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s TRIO Educational Talent Search (ETS), a college preparatory program funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO Programs. (ETS is one of three original programs comprising TRIO; the others are Upward Bound and Student Support Services.) The goal of ETS is to increase the likelihood that its participating youth learn about careers, college, and financial aid; complete high school; and gain admission to and ultimately graduate from postsecondary programs. UNL’s ETS site serves students who meet federal income guidelines and/or will be the first in their families to obtain a college degree. These students come from a variety of Title I schools (with at least 40% of the schools’ enrollment coming from low-income families). Throughout the school year, EQUATE has led afterschool activities at Lincoln’s Culler, Goodrich, Dawes, Lefler, Mickle, and Park Middle Schools. This summer, EQUATE has hosted these groups for tours at UNL’s Jorgensen Hall, plus led hands-on experiences in building spectrometers and solar-powered cars.

Beyond Lincoln, EQUATE outreach also took its show on the road, to partner with STEM summer programs offered in Columbus, where 75 middle school students were guided in learning physics by EQUATE team members, as well as Renewable Energy Technologies led by Dr. Shudipto Dishari, and DNA Extraction led by Dr. Rajib Saha (both from the UNL Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering).

At the post-secondary level, EQUATE labs hosted four REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) students, who came for the summer from the Ohio State University, University of Chicago, Wartburg College, and Nebraska Wesleyan University.

In addition to students, Nebraska teachers are also gaining opportunities via EQUATE outreach. Several teachers from schools throughout the state are expanding their curriculum with summer Research Experiences for Teachers (RETs) in campus labs, or with Remote Access to Instrumentation (RAIN) for their classes to connect with and explore during the school year.

Nebraska EQUATE’s outreach team includes staff from the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, and the Nebraska EPSCoR office; both offer paid “High School Researcher” positions in campus labs, totaling 17 hires this summer. Nebraska EPSCoR’s perennial Young Nebraska Scientists programs, including STEM camps for teenagers, added two new camps – Discovering Food Science: How the Cookie Crumbles, and Engineering Plant Cell Walls – thanks to EQUATE support.

montage of 4 photos includes (top left) group of middle school girls pouring colored liquid into cups at Columbus, Nebraska; (top right) female high school students making and wearing spectroscopic eyewear in a classroom, with Upward Bound in Lincoln, Nebraska; (lower left) 1 female and 2 male Research Experiences for Undergraduates -- REUs -- gather as they start their summer working in labs of the EQUATE project at University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and (lower right) 15+ high school researchers tour Lincoln, Nebraska's J.A. Woollam Company, which makes the majority of the world's ellipsometers for research.

PHOTOS: National Science Foundation funding, via Nebraska's EQUATE project, supported a variety of activities aimed at "Broadening Participation in STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Top left -- middle school girls mix colored liquids during a summer program in Columbus, Nebraska. Top right -- high school girls make (and model) spectroscopic eyewear during an Upward bound activity in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lower left: three of four REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates) gather before starting summer work in labs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lower right -- more than a dozen High School Researchers toured Lincoln's J.A. Woollam Co., which makes most of the world's ellipsometry machines for research.