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For the love of STEM: NAU students volunteer at middle school

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  • Theresa Bierer/Northern Arizona University

NAU Engineering Majors, From Left, Ryan Marshall, Charlie Wilson And Mariah Paz With Sinagua Middle School Teacher Gretchen Downey.

Engineering major Charlie Wilson spends time most weeks with Flagstaff middle school students, volunteering at the Sinagua Middle School Institute for Technology and Engineering, and is often joined by other members of Northern Arizona University’s American Society of Civil Engineers.

“These are eight grade students doing a nationwide competition called Future City, where they design a 3-D model with transportation, energy, buildings and waste management,” Wilson said. “Many of the eight grade students are just learning about engineering and it is cool to be that role model for them and hopefully spark interest for them in the field.”

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Eighth graders at Sinagua Middle School collaborate on their Future City projects.

Wilson and his peers offer more than scientific insights to students, the engineering majors bring parts of the college experience into the classroom.

“The NAU students give us a better perspective of what college might be like and what we might be learning some day, said eighth-grader Shea Wilson, who one day plans to pursue an engineering degree. “It is really interactive and I enjoy being hands on, building things and making a difference in society.”

Classmate Dermot Louchart agreed that engineers do work that matters and said he enjoys working with the NAU students on building a city. “It is super interactive and engaging,” said Louchart, who is learning about money management and city government as part of the project.

Because of its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Flagstaff earned the designation as a STEM City in 2012. The STEM City Center was initially funded by NAU, with numerous other partners joining the effort in the past two years. For many people, the STEM City designation is a source of pride

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NAU engineering majors, from left, Ryan Marshall, Charlie Wilson and Mariah Paz with Sinagua Middle School teacher Gretchen Downey.

“NAU students bringing STEM into the classroom is important because my students sometimes think of science as an isolated topic but now they see college students applying it in their lives,” said Gretchen Downey, teacher at Sinagua Middle School’s Institute for Technology and Engineering.

“As an NAU engineering student, it feels really good to introduce these eighth graders to engineering and science,” said senior Mariah Paz, who said it would have been nice if she had been exposed to similar principles in middle school.