By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
PLANO – Between explaining her role as an electrical engineer at Intel Corporation and helping children with the hands-on projects available for them at her table, Amanda Noe occasionally looked up and scanned the St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic School gymnasium to try to find her daughter, Allison, among the crowd of people attending the school’s first-ever Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Fair on April 8.
Allison, a sophomore at John Paul II High School in Plano and a 2014 alum of St. Mark, was serving as the event’s co-chair along with classmate Natalie Jenkins. The two could not believe how many people were in attendance, many watching their children scurry between science experiments.
“We are shocked at how big this is,” Allison said. “It’s way beyond what we thought it was going to be, so it’s amazing.”
Last September, in an effort to strengthen the school’s emphasis on the sciences, St. Mark Principal Patricia Opon instructed teachers to incorporate STEM activities into their curriculum. Additionally, Opon wanted to host a STEM Fair for St. Mark students that would show them how the four disciplines are applied in everyday life.
“I’m a real big believer in kids seeing what we’re doing beyond the classroom,” Opon said. “We want them to understand that what we’re doing at St. Mark’s in our classroom is really part of the real world.”
Enter Jenkins and Noe who, with the help of St. Mark Assistant Principal Pam Steinkirchner, began recruiting nearly 50 area businesses and schools for the inaugural fair. Representatives from Raytheon, Texas Instruments, AT&T, Children’s Medical Center and Intel Corporation came and set up hands-on, interactive science experiments. Students got their hands on robots, forensic science experiments and virtual reality displays.
Amanda brought one of Intel’s robotic spiders, much to the delight of the students who walked by her booth.
“I really enjoy what I do and my interaction with technology and I just think it’s exciting to bring that spirit of interest and intrigue to younger kids and show them how exciting technology can be,” Noe said.
Students from the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, Ursuline Academy, Bishop Lynch High School, Jesuit College Preparatory School, and
John Paul II High School in Plano also participated and displayed their own science exhibits.
Steinkirchner said the fair not only offers an opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of the sciences, but also presents a possibility that the school will open more partnerships with area companies. As an example, Steinkirchner said the grade with the most students attending the fair would get a field trip to tour Texas Instruments. The fifth grade won that challenge.
St. Mark third-grade science teacher Janet Dansby walked around the crowded gymnasium and said she was grateful that the school had begun integrating STEM into the curriculum, noting that her students learn best when they can get their hands dirty.
“They love to create and to build,” Dansby said. “They love hands-on projects and that’s what STEM is all about; creation and building.”
As he watched his daughter Ansley interact with a robot at the UT-Dallas booth, Michael Duffy said he was excited for her to begin attending St. Mark in the fall.
“It’s really great to see all the companies that showed up to show off the way that they’re using technology in their corporations,” Duffy said. “My kids have really enjoyed seeing the robots and all the things they have on display here.”
Opon said the fair only marks the beginning of St. Mark’s STEM initiative.
“We ask ourselves how we’re going to top this event tonight, but we know that we will because we have the support of our community and our businesses. I think the sky is the limit.”
Pick up an April 15 print edition of The Texas Catholic to find more stories about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs at Dallas Catholic Schools.