News Garret College Event Brings Stem Alive - Garrett College
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Campus News

April 4th, 2022

Garret College event brings STEM alive

Everything from robotics to live animals featured in STEM Center

What do remote-controlled robots, online chess, imported maze challenges, and live snakes have in common?

They were all part of Saturday's hands-on STEM event, which took place in Garrett College's Offutt STEM Center.

The event, held in conjunction with an Explore Garrett Open House, drew local residents and prospective Garrett College students. Allegany College of Maryland, West Virginia University and Frostburg State University representatives from their respective STEM programs also took part in the event.

Dr. Ryan Harrod, dean of academic affairs and chief academic officer for Garrett College, said the Offutt STEM Center "was alive with excitement" during an event co-sponsored by the Academic and Student Affairs divisions.

"Students and their families were able to explore our state-of-the-art labs, talk with professors from all of our programs, and observe, participate in, and interact with STEM experiments and demonstrations," said Harrod.

Garrett College's Computer Science Department featured a multi-screen chess competition in which those attending could participate.

"We set up to play chess across a network with a server hosting the whole thing," said Rich Lewis, an assistant professor of computer science at Garrett College. "There's an online lobby where people enter, and then people can invite another player to play a game. As each player makes a move, it's reflected on the other player's screen.

"While this is a closed network, you could use the internet to open it up to players around the world," added Lewis.

The G-FORCE FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team (2818), sponsored by GEARS, Inc. and 4-H, were out in force at Saturday's event. The goal, according to G-FORCE Coach Phil Malone was "basically to get kids excited about careers in STEM."

The G-FORCE FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team (2818), sponsored by GEARS, Inc. and 4-H, were out in force at Saturday’s STEM event at Garrett College. Pictured are G-FORCE Coach Phil Malone and additional members of the robotics team. Photo by John Rudd

The FIRST Robotics Team 1629 Garrett Coalition (GaCo) displayed the robot it will be entering into next week’s Chesapeake District competition. Saturday’s event, held in conjunction with an Explore Garrett Open House, drew local residents and prospective Garrett College students. Photo by John Rudd

"The future is all things automation – self-driving cars, space rovers, rockets that can launch themselves," said Malone, adding, "Anything that Elon Musk gets involved in, that's the future as far as I can see."

The G-FORCE team demonstrated one of their robots conducting remote-controlled tasks. Northern Garrett High's Laura Huelskamp said she first became attracted to STEM through the local LEGO team, leading to the higher-level robotics clubs.

"I like creating the robot and having it go from a simple ideal to a machine that can complete a task," said Huelskamp.

The FIRST Robotics Team 1629 Garrett Coalition (GaCo) brought two human-sized mazes to the event. One maze challenged participants to go from start to finish by only making right-hand turns. The other required participants to complete a multi-colored maze without crossing the same color twice in a row.

"We got the idea from an outdoor STEM playground in Stockholm," said Team 1629 Lead Mentor Chuck Twautwein, whose son is stationed in Stockholm. "So, you could say we brought a little bit of Stockholm back to Garrett County.

"The mazes require lots of computational thinking and problem-solving along with a sense of spatial awareness, all of which is critical in STEM programs," added Trautwein.

Northern Garrett High senior Ava Rankin said she became engaged in STEM as a fourth-grade member of a Lego team.

"Just being on that first team helped me see all the different ways you can be involved in STEM," said Rankin, who will be attending Frostburg State University in the fall to study accounting and business management.

The 1629 squad also displayed the robot it will be entering into next week's Chesapeake District competition. The district event provides a pathway to the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championships, scheduled April 19-23 in Houston, TX.

While many events were high-tech, Garrett College's Natural Resources & Wildlife Technology activities were high-touch, featuring everything from live snakes and turtles to a "skulls and skins" matching activity involving stuffed beavers, grey foxes, Virginia opossums, and raccoons.

"In my experience, the lives critters automatically draw people in," said Amo Oliverio, an associate professor of NRWT. "That's how we teach class – hands-on and in the field, which is what really makes NRWT special."

Baltimore County resident Luis Cervantes, an NRWT student who just accepted a job as a naturalist at Rocky Gap, said those are the qualities that attracted him to the program in the first place.

"A friend told me about Garrett College's NRWT program," said Cervantes. "It was in-state, affordable, and with a lot of hands-on learning. I liked the idea of learning about wildlife and getting the hands-on technical side in the field."