As the nation’s top government officials target efforts to help better prepare America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subject areas, a program at Virginia Tech that is the realization of these efforts is gearing up for a new semester of on-campus activities.

Kids' Tech University, a program developed at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech in partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program to spark children's interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, will return to the Virginia Tech campus in January 2011. 

A groundbreaking program for kids between the ages of 9 and 12 (as of Sept. 30, 2010) living within a four-hour drive of the Virginia Tech campus, Kids’ Tech University is designed to introduce kids to STEM topics and life on a university campus at an early age. Held four Saturdays over the course of the spring semester, the events feature student-focused sessions with internationally recognized scientific researchers and hands-on activities developed by various Virginia Tech student clubs, Virginia 4-H extension agents, Virginia Tech professors, and community organizations to encourage further exploration of the lecture topics. 

The fun and excitement of the program continues after the children leave campus through an online lab component featuring activities designed to cultivate continued interest. Online enrollment for the spring 2011 semester will begin on Dec. 6, 2010 at 6 p.m.

In October, President Barack Obama hosted the White House Science Fair to recognize the winners of a broad range of STEM competitions for students, which is part of the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign created to boost American students’ achievements in science and math. Obama has been a staunch supporter of strengthening relationships between the scientific community and the broader public and elementary and high school students and teachers, working closely with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to create new ways for science and math professionals to connect with students.

“One of the goals of the current administration is to get scientists, engineers, and mathematicians into the classroom to interact with students and teachers,” explains Reinhard Laubenbacher, professor and director of education and outreach at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, who spearheaded the development of Kids’ Tech University based on a similar program in Germany. “Kids’ Tech University takes this one step further. We connect researchers with students, as well as the students’ parents and teachers, in a university environment. This not only helps cultivate student interest in these subject areas, but also introduces them to life on a college campus at an early age. Our afternoon hands-on activities give the children an opportunity to see how the concepts they learn about in the lectures actually work.

The following is the schedule for the spring 2011 Kids’ Tech University semester.

  • Jan. 29, 2011: “Patterns are Everywhere! How and Why?” by Reinhard Laubenbacher, professor, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute; and professor of mathematics, Virginia Tech
  • Feb. 26, 2011: “Why are glaciers in Antarctica important to people who live in Virginia?” by Ellen Cowan, professor of geology, Appalachian State University 
  • March 26, 2011: “Why do we care about frogs’ health?” by Tyrone Hayes, professor of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley 
  • April 9, 2011: “Why do we want to touch everything with our fingertips? And more ‘why’ questions about how our bodies communicate with the world.” by Helena Carvalho, assistant professor of basic sciences, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute

Together, the Virginia 4-H STEM Initiative and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s education and outreach team provide a comprehensive program for students and teachers. Guest researchers and 4-H Youth Development Professor Kathleen Jamison offer teacher training sessions based on STEM content and learning pedagogy through experiential and inquiry-based learning strategies. The teachers apply what they have learned in the training workshops through hands-on/minds-on applications of the content during the activity stations offered for Kids’ Tech University participants. University departments and 4-H agents with relevant content expertise provide additional learning centers. Virginia 4-H will reach 50,000 new youth in a variety of STEM areas across the next three years.

“Kids’ Tech University has continued to grow since it’s first semester in 2009,” said Kristy Collins, a senior research associate in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s education and outreach group and Kids’ Tech University leader. “In addition to our semester of student-focused lectures, hands-on programs, and professional career development opportunities for teachers, we continue to work towards our goal of setting up programs across the nation and launched our first off-site program at Virginia State University in September.”

Registration will begin at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2010, and the first 450 students registered will be accepted. To help offset the costs of the program, a $25 registration fee will be required for each student. Parents may apply for scholarships to cover the registration fee.



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