Where is the next generation going to find exciting, good-paying jobs?  Like as not, they’ll be in science, technology, engineering or mathematics — the so-called STEM fields. 

That’s why corporate partners like AT&T Michigan are getting excited about Michigan Technological University’s Mind Trekkers, a science road show designed to captivate youngsters by letting them manipulate the mysteries of science.

AT&T Michigan has awarded Michigan Tech a $20,000 Innovation Grant to sponsor four Mind Trekkers hands-on science shows across northern Michigan in early May. 

The free programs are scheduled for:

* Tuesday, May 3, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) Career-Tech Center, 880 Parsons Road, Traverse City.
* Wednesday, May 4, Norris Center, Lake Superior State University (LSSU), Sault Ste. Marie.
* Thursday, May 5, Joseph Heirman University Center building, Bay College, Escanaba.
* Friday, May 6, Bay College West, Iron Mountain.

“The name of this contribution says it all,” remarked James Murray, president of AT&T Michigan. “At AT&T, innovation means investing in the network, technology and capacity to help people and businesses communicate and thrive. The Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers science road show is all about innovation, education and offering Michigan student an opportunity to gain skills and experiences that will help them succeed. This is an effort we are proud to support.”

Mind Trekkers’ specialty is demystifying science, exploring its fun side and making science make sense. A charter bus will bring dozens of student volunteers from Michigan Tech in Houghton to the exhibitions in Traverse City, Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba and Iron Mountain. They’ll haul with them the makings of liquid nitrogen ice cream, a Van de Graaff generator that makes your hair stand on end and — of course — oobleck, the gooey white liquid that acts like a solid if you jump on it hard enough.  And those are just three of nearly 50 different “you try it” activities that Mind Trekkers will set up wherever they go.

The local educational partners who are hosting the events have invited hundreds of area students from fourth through 12th grades. At LSSU and Bay College, undergraduate students and faculty will also be conducting hands-on activities and introducing the participating youngsters to the college opportunities available to them. LSSU will open some of its labs, including its Robotics Lab, its Aquatic Research Laboratory and the adjoining Cloverland Electric Hydro-Electric Plant.

A Great Lakes Mobile Energy Classroom will join the fun, driving from downstate to introduce students to concepts of alternative energy.  Engineering students from LSSU will teach the younger students to make wind turbines and solar-powered Lego cars.

National, state and local political leaders will be special guests at the LSSU event. The Michigan Campus Compact and the Michigan College Access Network have joined the financial sponsorship of the program at LSSU, awarding a $12,000 grant that will help area schools transport students to the event.  MCC and MCAN will bring the “Know How 2 Go” campaign, designed to inform students about post-high school educational opportunities. Thirteen colleges will be on hand to answer students’ questions about curriculum, applications and financial aid.

“The Mind Trekkers event is intended to offer a 360-degree view of STEM — interest elicited, education facilitated and future employment represented,” said Shelley Wooley, head of the federally funded Gear Up program at LSSU. Wooley added that more than 100 LSSU students, faculty and staff will be providing demonstrations or support services for the event.

Officials at the TBAISD Career-Tech Center in Traverse City expect more than 1,000 students to participate in its May 3 event.

“The TBAISD Career-Tech Center is extremely excited about teaming up with Michigan Tech and AT&T to give our students in the region an exciting opportunity to learn about science, technology engineering and math,” said Patrick Lamb, principal of the Career-Tech Center. “The opportunity to learn in a fun, hands-on setting is vital for challenging today’s students and preparing them to compete in a global economy.”

At Bay College, Jill Wiese Martin, project director for the college’s federally funded Title III Strengthening Institutions program, called relationships with K-12 schools in the STEM areas vital “to grow the next generation of workforce professionals so that, as a nation, we can once again be a leader in science and math. The first step for our children is to be engaged and imagine the possibilities. Mind Trekkers creates the space for everyone to put their hands and heads together, sparking curiosity and imagining the possibilities through exploration, creating the need to know. Then Bay and Michigan Tech and others can work to build the foundations of knowledge and create lifetime learners.”

Michigan Tech hopes its AT&T Mind Trekkers project will become a model for a much broader state and national program. Tech’s Office of Pre-college Outreach is planning to apply for an informal science education grant from the National Science Foundation to take the project to the next level. 

“We are also talking with other corporate sponsors who are interested in bringing Mind Trekkers into rural areas where they have plants and anticipate future needs for skilled workers,” said Mind Trekkers Director Steve Patchin.

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