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Super Science!

By Mary Jane Cyphert

This past February, Benedictine College’s STEM departments hosted their very first Super Science Saturday. This event gave local second and third grade students the opportunity to interact with the STEM fields. They even explored different hands-on experiments to make and take. The STEM departments of the day included Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Math, Physics, and Psychology. Super Science Saturday was held in Benedictine’s newly renovated Westerman building on February 22. Around thirty kids were in attendance from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm.

Dr. Patrisha Bugayong, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, gave some insight into Super Science Saturday’s effect on our community. She and Dr. Martha Carletti, Assistant Professor of Biology, were the event organizers. “The idea would be for these kids to do an actual experiment in each specific discipline, while taking away something with them,” she said. When the event was first being talked about, Bugayong explains, “We wanted it to be something that could target the Atchison community in general. We invited kids from Atchison Elementary, Trinity Lutheran, and local homeschoolers to try and make sure this was open to all second and third graders.” While there are other science exhibitions in the region, such as “Science City” in downtown Kansas City, Bugayong indicated that most Atchison families are reluctant to attend considering the hour-and-a-half drive. Bugayong and Carletti wanted to bring interactive science to Atchison; the resources and the size of faculty that the College now has available, combined with funding from a Wal-Mart Local Community Grant, enabled them to do so.

There was an abundance of smiles from the second and third graders as they engaged in interactive science experiments. Brendan Young, a homeschooled third grader, expressed his enthusiasm for an experiment in which he had the opportunity to take apart an owl pellet, the mass of undigested fur, bones, teeth, and fur of an owl’s food. “It was my first time getting to touch an owl pellet!” he exclaimed. When asked how he enjoyed his day, Brendan expressed his continued excitement for next year’s Super Science Saturday. Other experiments included making ice cream with liquid nitrogen in the Physics presentation and creating slime-like substances in the Chemistry lab.

The success of the day would not have been possible without the Benedictine student volunteers. Natalie Dykmann, a senior Biology major, felt her time volunteering was a great experience. “Allowing younger kids the opportunity to get in the lab and perform experiments gives them the confidence they need for their future in the STEM world,” she says. Among the many benefits of volunteering, getting to watch second and third graders learn was important for her. “I plan to be a Biology teacher in the future,” she says, “so it was a good opportunity to mix biology and STEM fields along with being with youth.” Carletti, Dykmann’s Immunology professor, often stresses the importance of giving back and sharing acquired knowledge with one’s own community. From Carletti, she has learned the importance of getting involved in Atchison. “The benefits of volunteering are so vast,” Dykmann states, “It gives you the opportunity to get exposure to your greater community and it really bonds individuals, especially in a town like Atchison. Whenever you give of yourself in a greater way, you end up finding yourself and finding joy in serving those around you. “

Besides Bugayong and Carletti, presentations were led by Dr. Ryan Maderak, Dr. J. Dean Elmore, Dr. Heidi Hulsizer, Dr. Sarah Harris, and Dr. Juan Carlos Araque. Extra help was offered by Aramark, Benedictine’s food service provider, who donated snacks for the event. It is planned that Super Science Saturday, which raised the bar for Benedictine’s involvement with the Atchison community, will continue in the coming years.