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Event Highlights STEM Skills For Students

Middle schoolers Alex Maney and Zack Gillman work with DNA from a strawberry during a STEM event on the Wright-Patt base.
Ariel Van Cleave

The STEM subjects--science, technology, engineering and math--are becoming more important these days. Programs like Wright-Patt’s Starbase push for a hands-on approach to STEM.

Middle schoolers Alex Maney and Zack Gillman are staring into a digital microscope examining the building blocks of a strawberry.

“It looks like a dragon, kind of, if you look at it at the right angle,” Maney said.

“Like a bird,” Gillman said.

The two were part of a larger group of students taking part in a STEM event Friday morning. The kids used an extraction solution made up of salt, soap and water, and rubbing alcohol to separate the DNA from a mashed-up strawberry.

Starbase Instructor Natalie Livingston says this lesson is an important one. It makes genes and chromosomes more concrete.

“I think what they like the most is seeing it under the microscope. So they actually get a chance to see that DNA under there. The actual DNA that forms at the top of their beakers actually looks like white snot. So they’re not too impressed with that,” she said.

The DNA extraction was just one of the STEM activities Friday. Other students were figuring out how to build a floating bridge out of noodles, Styrofoam packing peanuts and hot glue. At the other station, kids were learning how lasers work.

Jason Streiff is the site director for Starbase, which regularly holds these events on base with area students. He says these lessons capture a kid’s attention.

“They’re having a blast. They’re engaged. They love it,” he said.

Streiff hopes these students will choose a STEM-related career path. There is already a skills gap in Ohio and demand for workers trained in science and technology is only expected to increase.