STEM Program Inspires Local Students

Bob DeGour and his wife, Lynn Randle, of St. Michaels, took their passion for learning and are giving back to the St. Michaels community through a new summer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program offered to students participating in summer school at St. Michaels Elementary School.

Bob, a 1973 graduate of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) and a Blue and Gold Officer with the USNA Admissions Office for the Delmarva Peninsula, realized while speaking to potential high school candidates about selecting the USNA for college, that he wanted to talk more broadly with them about developing goals to positively affect their futures while in high school.

Lynn recalled how the film, “Searching for Superman,” left an impact on the couple, stating, “The film illustrated that if students fall behind by the fourth grade, they aren’t able to catch up to where they need to be in high school to attend college.”

“It became apparent to me that I needed to start that conversation with younger students if I wanted to impact the options available to high school students today,” Bob comments.

Lynn’s former Pentagon colleague is now in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) examining ways to increase the number of scientists and engineers in the U.S. During a STEM conference at ONR, Bob met Sharon Disher, another USNA graduate, who is founder and director of “Young Engineers and Scientists” – an elementary school STEM program on Maryland’s Western Shore.

Bob and Lynn were then encouraged by Tracy Cohee, Executive Director of the St. Michaels YMCA, and Pam Phillips, Youth Program Director for the St. Michaels Community Center, to get involved with mentoring the elementary school students in St. Michaels. Having never run a STEM program, Lynn asked her Facebook contacts about ideas for STEM projects they could use with the students and began talking to STEM educators from across the country.

Bob recalls, “I had a vision to make a difference one student at a time.”

STEM Leader Hollis Luethy, a St. Michaels High School student, participated in the new STEM Program this summer.

It was determined that the program would function within the Summer School Program at St. Michaels Elementary School for students in first through fifth grades and would be a subset of the YMCA’s afternoon program there. Bob had four days in the afternoon of one week to offer the STEM activities. Bob and Lynn funded the program themselves. The program’s strategies were to provide an initial program to encourage academic achievement and to use STEM to highlight extraordinary future academic and career opportunities. The program would be offered to younger students, while using middle and high school students, called STEM Leaders, to provide instruction and mentoring.

He then worked with Jack Gill, a rising senior from St. Michaels High School, to create STEM Leader training sessions. Bob and YMCA onsite coordinator and Queen Anne’s County elementary school teacher, Monica White, provided oversight to the trainings.

STEM Leaders were taught to be patient and to encourage the students to seek discovery, be inquisitive, have integrity and think outside the box. Each day the STEM Leaders read the STEM pledge:

  1. I promise to believe in myself.
  2. I promise to do my best now and in the future.
  3. I promise to do well in math and in science.
  4. I promise to respect everyone.
  5. I promise to be safe.
  6. I promise to never hurt anyone with what I have learned.

Bob used stories about famed surgeon and current HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson. He included personal accountability lessons from his own life about “Packing Your Own Chute,” based on one of his colleagues who didn’t pack his own parachute and lost his life to the parachute not opening in a military jump. Bob recalls, “By the third day, the kids started coming out of their shells.”

STEM Camper Harlin Bartolon builds a bridge out of marshmallows and spaghetti noodles in the STEM summer program.

Through activities like building boats out of aluminum foil, creating gas-powered bottle boats and creating bridges out of marshmallows and spaghetti noodles, students learned about making mistakes, responsibility and accountability to their leaders and about thinking outside the box.

Robbie Gill, CEO of YMCA of the Chesapeake, comments, “The Y is actively involved in combatting summer learning loss in communities across the Eastern Shore. Bob DeGour’s efforts to implement a STEM program within our summer learning camps was a huge win for students. Not only was the curriculum fun and exciting, but Bob’s recruitment and training of High School students to work with and mentor these participants was more than we could have ever hoped for. This is a model that can make a big impact in the lives of so many students that need this extra help in the summer and engaging high school students in a volunteer/mentoring capacity fosters the importance of giving back to the community we call home. I can’t thank Bob enough for his efforts.”

Brandon Foy, a member of the Class of 2019 at St. Michaels High School and a mentor in the program, commented, “Before this program started, I didn’t know how fulfilling being a mentor could be. I enjoyed watching the kids become more and more enthusiastic about wanting to interact with the activities we had planned for them and their excitement to learn about STEM. The kids’ excitement to learn and explore the different aspects of STEM is what had the greatest impact on me as a mentor.”

He adds, “Not only did being a mentor help me better my presentation, time management and decision-making skills, I also learned how challenging it could be to teach a young group of kids. I’m very glad Mr. DeGour gave me the opportunity to be a part of this program because I didn’t know how rewarding teaching could be. The impact that the program had on me as a mentor is one that I will never forget. I’m looking forward to being a part of the STEM program again next year!”

Following their participation in the STEM summer program, STEM Leaders, like Brandon, sent personalized letters to the parents of the students who participated to offer themselves as mentors to the students during the upcoming school year. Student mentors will be introduced to each student’s teacher in the coming year and be involved in the student’s learning – asking about what the student is learning and offering tutoring if needed, as well as holding the student accountable for their learning.

Bob comments, “It gives the high school students experience for their college resumes and the opportunity to experience life lessons and leadership. The STEM Leaders really shined in working with these young kids.”

When talking about the younger students in the program, Bob states, “Some people define their lives by the phrase ‘they are what they do. . . but self-actualized people do who they are.’ We want to challenge students to know what they like and what they do best. If students are never exposed to something, how can they know what their intrinsic skillsets are? Through STEM, students learn what is possible.”

Lynn adds, “The younger kids really learned by the hands-on learning we did – touching and feeling the things they created each day.”

The following businesses provided lunch for the STEM Leaders over the course of the week: Sam’s Pizza, Subway, Rusticana Pizza and Graul’s Market. The STEM Campers were fed by the elementary school’s contractor.

Lynn, who also mentors a seven-year old student at St. Michaels Elementary School throughout the year, comments, “In Talbot County, it’s about changing one kid at a time. The importance of mentoring, in addition to the extra learning they get through a program like STEM, can really make a difference in a child’s life. We need adults who will spend time with kids and give them courage – to not be afraid to get it wrong or to get it right.”

In addition to continuing the STEM program in St. Michaels next summer, the couple hopes to offer a STEM event this fall in Easton. Civic organizations that want to support the STEM program at St. Michaels Elementary School should contact Bob DeGour at 410-253-7507 or robert.degour@gmail.com.

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Attraction July 2017 Cover