STEM Ambassadors: Mentors in disguise

Posted by Amber Kapiloff
Daily Bulldog, Franklin County’s First News website
December 17, 2018

FARMINGTON – On a Thursday evening grew dark in the late fall, the Farmington Public Library stands warm and inviting to a wide variety of readers, writers, and learners. For the past six weeks, those learners gathered in the back corner of the library, not necessarily to devour books worm-style, but to explore the world of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

“We aim to highlight a subject that often gets glossed over. Elementary education especially is often missing the emphasis on science and sometimes that can be the one thing that might hook a kid into education,” University of Maine at Farmington Cooperative Extension 4-H Coordinator Tara Marble said.

Marble has dusted off a program that brings together UMF college students with local elementary school kids in the name of science- the STEM Ambassador Program. With the help of places like the library, kids have access to STEM-based activities led by volunteer college students. Over the last year, they’ve organized programs at Cascade Brook School, Academy Hill School and Mallett’s after school program.

“The library has been amazing. They have so many kids coming in there after school and they often don’t get a chance to celebrate that,” Marble said.

For the students, both young and old, the gains are great. Younger kids are exposed to STEM activities that are completely hands-on and often student-led, while UMF students get the chance to practice leading a lesson and connect with the local community.

“The kids get to see this real-life college student doing a cool science experiment and end up bonding with them over it. It’s not a mentoring program in the way that Big Brother/Big Sisters is, but it’s kind of like a mentoring program in disguise,” she said. “Every little bit helps to get these kids envisioning life after high school.”

Last week the students were learning how to make slime. A deceptively fun, messy experiment that all the while teaches the fundamentals of chemistry. Marble described another project based on grow-your-own-dinosaur toys that led a student to question whether the same model could be used to absorb oil at a spill site.

“It’s so great to see them putting the pieces together far beyond a grow-your-own-dinosaur toy,” she said.