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Springfield Middle School student Koceila Beddek bent over the NASA space map, adjusting tiny mirrors to direct the laser across the room and hit the moon target on the wall.
"We're working on it, just a few more adjustments," the 13-year-old said of tackling the space communications lesson hosted by NASA Friday at the Challenger Learning Center of Lake Erie West. "Bring it up, raise it a little bit."
For a youth whose career goal is to be a computer programmer who creates satellite and space software, the Fall STEM Program at the center was a plethora of opportunity.
"What am I most excited about here?" Koceila said, pondering. "Hmmmmm, there's a lot of good stuff."
He finally settled on the GPS station, in which educators from Penta Career Center taught him and more than 700 other participating students to plot a map using GIS and GPS instruments.
The two-day program at the center, 4955 Seaman Rd., offered Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, learning opportunities, to eighth graders at nine different school districts. The program was guided by guided by Ohio's science and college readiness standards, said Brenda Gift, supervisor of Challenger Learning Center.
"Forty-two percent of employers say it's hard to find employees trained in science technology and math. In ninth grade, that's when your grades start counting for college - not 10th, not 11th," Ms. Gift told a room packed with students.
"Our goal is to expose as many students as we can hold to STEM education, and to partner with various community organizations and formal science centers and higher education organizations to bring those opportunities to the students," she said.
William Kallay, an author and filmmaker from California, introduced the students to his recently published book "The Making of Tron," which was spurred on by his love of the movie as a teenager in 1982 and his recognition that the movie producer's use of computer generated animation and visual effects revolutionized the film-making world.
"The computer power used on Tron was less than the computer power on one of your iPhone apps," he told the students, noting that the movie's first use of computer-generated material caught the eye of Pixar CEO John Lasseter, who went on to create movies such as Toy Story and Cars using the same technology. "It was a box office disappointment that became one of the most influential movies of all time."
Springfield eighth grader Kennedi Gucciardo admitted she was having a blast at the NASA station, despite her dream of being a marine biologist instead of working in space technology.
"I don't really understand space; it's too confusing," she said.
BP, High Schools That Work, and NWO Center for Excellence in STEM Education helped host the program. Imagination Station and Lourdes University also hosted science learning stations.
Contact Roberta Redfern at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6081.