This Spring Break, Identity middle-school students participated in activities designed to give their science and math brains a workout while also exposing them to future education and career opportunities. Through a new partnership with Montgomery College, Identity brought twenty-four students from Gaithersburg and Neelsville Middle Schools to the Germantown campus for three back-to-back days of STEM learning.

The hands-on experiences included dissecting owl pellets to identify rat skeleton remains, understanding the electrical conductivity of magnets and batteries by creating a spring coil gear, and identifying, counting, and cleaning cells in biology labs. All the activities were led by experienced Montgomery College faculty eager to pass their knowledge and passion on to the next generation of STEM minds.

“The beauty of STEM is that it’s a life-changer,” said Dr. James Sniezek, Dean for Chemical and Biological Sciences at Montgomery College, who ran the session on owl pellet dissection. “It’s where the good-paying jobs are, and it’s where you have the potential to do additional good for society. We’re in a technological revolution where everything is changing quickly, and it’s important that students stay abreast of that technological change.”

To cap off the event, the students’ families attended a special dinner to learn more about Montgomery College’s STEM programs, as well as the supports and resources available to newcomer and first generation college students. Speakers included Identity Program Director Nora Morales, Karla Silvestre, Montgomery College’s Director of Community Engagement and member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, and college student Jefferson Vasquez Reyes, a newcomer who shares many of the same life experiences as our youth.

“Often, Latino students shy away from STEM”, said Nora Morales, “they don’t see themselves as capable to pursue these subjects because they are often not cheered on by teachers at their home schools. By being able to be in college classrooms students feel a sense of academic optimism and start envisioning themselves as college students. In addition, they begin to realize that they are intelligent enough to do the work required of STEM students.”

The evening included a showcase of student projects.  The excitement and optimism in the air was palpable as kids smiled and laughed with their families and parents chatted with college professors about the many possibilities open to their children.

“I do think that these sorts of opportunities are going to fuel that passion for science, and I believe that many of these students will eventually go into a career in STEM,” says Dr. Sniezek. “I even had some kids ask when I was going to retire, because they said they wanted to study at Montgomery College in seven years and they wanted to know if I’d still be an instructor.”