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Advocates celebrate STEAM education at the 2020 STEAM Day at the New Mexico Legislature

Martyne Kieling, Geoscientist at the New Mexico Environment Department, demonstrates how the department removes groundwater contamination.

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.

 “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 that needs to be done in order to do that. STEAM can no longer be seen as an extracurricular activity. It’s a vital piece of modern learning. Whether you are a nuclear physicist at the labs, a teacher, a welder, a lawyer, a poet or a farmer, STEAM is a part of your life that affects you.”

This year’s theme was Get Excited and Engaged in STEAM! Visitors experimented with a wind tunnel provided by Explora, tested their solution for pumping water out of an aquifer with the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) 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 was on hand to share 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, New Mexico State Environment Department, the Institute for STEM Education, New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Sundance Educational Consulting, STEM Santa Fe and Mesa 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. And it really shows how the world is interconnected, instead of it just being these disparate fields that don’t have anything to do with each other.”

Sally Maxwell, Education Specialist at Audubon New Mexico believes STEAM is important to prepare students “to fight climate change and to fight for the future of our planet.” Siobhan Niklasson, Education Programs Director at PEEC, said STEAM provides “an understanding of our natural resources and of the technology that helps us access our natural resources and for students and adults to have an idea of how things work.”

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.

N.M. State Representative (D–District 41) Susan K. Herrera

Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley discussed STEAM career opportunities.

“Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math are plentiful here in New Mexico, and if you study it in school, you will get a job here,” McCamley said. “If you want to be a computer scientist, an engineer, be in healthcare: there are all sorts of opportunities for you to not only make a good salary but contribute back to your economy and your communities.”

McCamley described 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 Education at the New Mexico Public Education Department, 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 continued, “On behalf of the Public Education Department, we are excited and humbled to know that the work that we do in STEM should reflect culturally and linguistically a sustainable approach,” Perea Warniment said. “So that everything we do is also grounded in and values the communities that we are in; not just taking an approach where we know what’s best, but also understanding the space of those communities and how they approach science and a worldview.”

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.

True Kids 1 conduct an interview with Bryan Maestas, ISEC Program Manager at the LANL Foundation.
Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley
2019 New Mexico Science Teacher Association Teacher of the Year Jessica Sanders wore atomic symbol earrings to STEAM Day.

New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary Of Education Gwen Perea Warniment 

Dr. Harshi Mukundan, Deputy Group Leader to the Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy Group and Team Leader for the Chemistry Biomedical Research Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory

LANL Foundation Education Enrichment Director Mike Dabrieo

From left: LANL Foundation STEAM Day organizers Doris Rivera, Jaap Gardner, Mike Dabrieo and Bryan Maestas.