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STEM scholars gain early hands-on experience


Big Rapids sophomore Sara Fisk receives a scholar award in Science Technology Engineering and Math through the College of Education and Human Services.

When Sara Fisk wrote what she wanted to be when she grew up on the white board of her third grade classroom, she knew in that moment she wanted to be a teacher.

The Big Rapids sophomore is a teacher education major and a Science Technology Engineering and Math Education (STEM) scholar at Central Michigan University. Being a STEM scholar allows her to work hands on with kids early in her degree, she said.

Fisk wants to be a math teacher because it comes naturally to her. She worked at summer STEM camps CMU held for elementary and middle school students in the summer and was awarded the STEM education scholarship — her dream of being a math teacher starting to look more like a reality.

Being able to work with kids is a hands-on experience most education majors normally don’t have until they are accepted into the program after passing the Professional Readiness Exam, she said.

One requirement of being a STEM scholar is to have an ACT score of at least 26, which qualifies as passing for the PRE. Fisk said the STEM program prepared her for her classes and made her more comfortable and confident working with kids.

“It was a sneak peek into being a teacher,” Fisk said. “It was a wake up call that this job isn’t easy but I don’t know what else I would do with my life. I’d like to teach advanced math and eventually teach at a college level.”

Julie Cunningham, director at the Center of Excellence in STEM Education, said the scholarship gives students the ability to creatively solve a problem. She said it is a problem solving based program because every STEM scholar will someday have different problems they will be tasked with solving creatively in their own classrooms.

The STEM Education Scholarship was started in 2015 and has accepted every student who has applied for it. Each scholar can receive a $1,000 one-time award, free enrollment in Leadership Safari, membership in a national math or science association and attendance at a national science, math or STEM conference, Cunningham said.

“Sara went above and beyond,” Cunningham said. “She worked at camps over the summer and worked really hard.”

One camp Fisk worked at through the STEM program was a drone camp, the first of its kind at CMU. Students who attend the camp are normally from the Mount Pleasant area. Middle school students got to build and fly drones in a competition with each other. After the camp each camper got to leave with their own $25 drone.

Other camps that STEM hosts are an engineering camp and tinkering and technology camp. Cunningham said kids who attend the camps learn problem solving skills and teamwork.

“They’re on campus working with college students so they can see themselves going to school here someday,” Cunningham said.

Ashley O’Neil, program coordinator for the STEM center, said that the camps are a unique way for college and younger elementary and middle school students to be involved on CMU’s campus.

“Student’s ideas almost always exceed what we thought,” O’Neil said. “They get out of it what they put in.”