Students find link in science, careers

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

ONTARIO – Seventh grade students around the county sit in classrooms every day, listening to teachers, studying off tablets and taking tests.

On Thursday, the students were provided the chance to turn classroom learning into life experiences as they gathered at the Four Rivers Cultural Center for Malheur Youth Science Day.

Now in its second year, the day drew over 400 students from every school in the county. Upon arrival, the students were assigned blocks of times in different rooms designed to increase their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math as it relates to careers.

“Today gives students the opportunity to connect the real world with classroom learning,” said Nickie Shira, coordinator of the event and Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) coordinator for the Malheur Education Service District. “Last year, we had 300 students so we are extremely pleased with this year’s turnout.”

In one room, students discovered if their technique for washing hands was working. After washing, groups were directed into a tarped area with black light. Using a special crème, washed hands lit up showing germs still there.

In another room students toured the digestive system using 3-D glasses. Those in the room twisted and turned heads as they journeyed through intestines.

Elsewhere, Harper seventh grade students Sierra Dodson and Mia Bixby worked together on a 3-D image of the human heart using special glasses.

“I was amazed how many beats a heart takes during our lifetime,” said Dodson.

In a large auditorium, classes learned how far science and technology can take them in life from those actually using science in their jobs.

Four employees from Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario told how they got their jobs. The one recurring theme among the four was struggling with math early in their lives and the value of education in their current careers.

“I urge you all to never give up on your dreams and explore options our there for you,” Naomi Harnden, a nuclear medicine technologist for the hospital. “Look into colleges around the country for what they have to offer.”

Marisol Cardoza, a physical therapist, presented in both English and Spanish for the crowd. After growing up in Portland, Cardoza has been in the local area for two years. She told of time outside the country.

“During college, I spent some time in Uganda,” Cardoza said. “My job now allows me to problem solve. Every person we see is a puzzle.”

Samantha Flaugh entered college intending to become a doctor. After marriage, the birth of a child and the outlook of 10 years of college ahead, Flaugh changed her career path. She is now a medical lab scientist at Saint Alphonsus.

“My job involves behind-the-scenes stuff,” Flaugh told the seventh graders. “I always knew I wanted to do something involving science from an early age. I want you all to know it is okay to change your minds of what you want to do in life. You can keep the dream, but change the path.”

One popular station during the day was the cardiopulmonary resuscitation room. Hosted by members of the Vale Ambulance Service, students were shown three short videos on the life saving technique before hitting the floor with CPR mannequins.

With palms down and arms locked in place, the students started compressions. Two minutes into pumping the mannequin’s chest, comments flowed.

“This is hard.” “I’m tired.” “Do you really have to go this long?”

“I never realized how hard this is to do for this long,” said Brady Batcheller, an Ontario Middle School seventh grade student as he delivered chest compressions.

The program was made possible by a grant from resources from throughout the county including the Frontier STEM Hub of the Malheur ESD, Oregon State University Extension office of Malheur County, Eastern Oregon Career Technical Education Program collaborating with Treasure Valley Community College, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, the University of Idaho, Vale Fire Department and all the school districts in the county.

“Countless research has shown students need to engage in hands-on activities like this outside the classroom,” Shira said. “We are excited to show students what is out there for them.”