Event teaches middle, high school students about STEM careers

STEM Exploration Day held at Navajo Prep

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Preparatory School sophomore Kamorie Thomas pieces together card stock paper as part of a stomp rocket activity at the STEM Exploration Day on Thursday at Navajo Prep in Farmington.
  • Navajo Prep partnered with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to present the event for a second year.
  • Students had the opportunity to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in sessions that encouraged hands-on learning.

FARMINGTON — Thoreau High School sophomore Elias Woody closely watched his sphere-shaped robot maneuver around small plastic cones set up inside a maze Thursday.

Earlier, Woody had learned how to use a coding program from an app to direct the robot's movement during the STEM Exploration Day at Navajo Preparatory School.

Woody said it was his first time programming a robot. After adjusting its movement and speed, he decided to try the maze, which the machine completed an inch away from the finish line.

"It was a fun competition," he said.

Offering a glimpse into robotics and coding is one reason Navajo Prep partnered with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to present the event for a second year.

The STEM Exploration Day offers students from schools in San Juan and McKinley counties the opportunity to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in sessions that encouraged hands-on learning. Further information was shared during a career fair.

Students watch a paper rocket launch during an activity at the STEM Exploration Day on Thursday at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

Donna Fernandez is the adviser at Navajo Prep for New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Inc., a statewide program that prepares middle and high school students for college majors and careers in STEM fields.

"It is particularly important here, in this area, to show what STEM careers are available to our students, so they get excited about studying math and studying science and then know there are jobs available in this area for them to come back to," Fernandez said.

From left, Gallup High School students Orion Lomaintewa, Destiny Slinkey and Robyn Sandoval and Thoreau High School students Taylor Long and Elias Woody learned how to program the movement of Sphero robots at the STEM Exploration Day on Thursday at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

She said the focus on middle school students helps them build a foundation for their interest in STEM. By continuing that focus in high school, the students are encouraged to pursue such careers, she said.

"If we get them early and excited, then they want to do more projects and find out what's available to them," Fernandez said.

Shawndeana Smith, the west region coordinator for New Mexico MESA, watched students as they participated in the stomp rocket activity. The activity featured students constructing rockets from card stock paper and propelling them from a launcher built from PVC pipes.

Chief Manuelito Middle School eighth-graders Kaden Bitsie, left, Rynil Lachica and Eli Joe use paper and tape to build rockets during the STEM Exploration Day on Thursday at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

After watching the first batch of rockets ascend and land, Smith told the students to think about changes they could make to their rockets in to improve their design and distance of travel.

"Mainly, the part I want to get across to them is the design," Smith said.

Navajo Prep sophomore Kamorie Thomas is interested in engineering and volunteered to help because she wants other students to develop an interest, as well.

"We could use more engineers out there on the Navajo Nation, for a better future," Thomas said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.