From left to right, Maia Wright, 12, and Alexander Decker, Acacia Madison and Brandon Vosbury, all 13, present their poster about how to dispose of cell phones to President Harvey Stenger, Time Warner Cable’s David Whalen and Go Green Director Wayne Jones.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Local middle-school students ‘go green’Tweet
Well before the two-week Go Green Institute wrapped up, Abigail Combs came home and told her parents she had a new appreciation for Binghamton University. The soon-to-be eighth grader in the Binghamton City School District — one of 58 participants from 15 different school districts in the hands-on program that gives middle-school students a taste of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — was hooked.
“She’s fascinated and has been excited about what she says is STEM,” said her mother, Christine Combs, a teacher in the Union Endicott School District. “For a 13-year-old to come home and say ‘I want to go into STEM’ is telling. She’s had so much hands-on, fun learning, and now she’s telling us everything we’re doing wrong environmentally, so we’re re-learning.”
Christine Combs was among the many parents who attended the Go Green wrap-up on July 20, when participants held a poster session on campus to show off some of their work. “It was very much a professional exercise and gave these young people an opportunity to work in a college setting years before they normally would,” Combs said.
Students selected from eight broad topics, and what they did for their poster project was up to them, explained Wayne Jones, interim dean of Harpur College and Go Green director. “We said, ‘What’s a question you have?’ and they came up with their own problems to address for the next two weeks, then had to design the experiment and try to come up with a conclusion.”
The students, broken up into small groups with a graduate student or local teacher as a guide, conducted surveys, researched the Web and collected as much information as possible on their topics — all related to the environment and sustainability. The poster session was their time to show off, and explain, their work.
Travis Holman from Spencer-Van Ettan and Evan George from Vestal were part of a team that investigated various ways to heat a new home. “We researched different types of heating systems and came up with the safest, most inexpensive and most environmentally friendly,” said Holman. The team’s conclusion? Geothermal was the safest, natural gas the most cost-effective, and a combination of solar and geothermal the most environmentally friendly. “There really was no one best answer,” said George. “You need a combination of them.”
Another team, looking at how cars can be more environmentally friendly, started their explorations using a remote-control car to see how the size of the tires could help with mileage, said Noah Maney, from Johnson City. “The larger tires were better on the highway,” he said, due to more momentum and their weight. “Smaller tires were better for driving in the city because they’re easier to start and stop.” The team also looked at the aerodynamics (by putting a sail on the car) and the weight of a car. The results indicated that the more aerodynamic the car, the better the gas mileage, and the heavier the vehicle, the more gas used.
“We also looked at biofuels,” said Maney. “Our graph shows different fuels. As there are less carbon emissions, they’re more environmentally friendly, but it’s more expensive. You have to sacrifice money to be more environmentally friendly.”
Participants and their families came together following the poster session to hear from Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger and program sponsors. Stenger thanked the parents and students, whose passion for STEM sparked his attention and made him remember what hooked him into becoming a scientist when he was about their age.
“I was sitting there one night trying to make a working gear set out of cardboard and my father came in and said, ‘You do this simple calculation,’ said Stenger. “And I said, ‘That’s so elegant, that I can do something with my brain before I do it with my hands.
“After I use my brain to solve the problem, I want to use my hands to solve the problem,” he said. “That’s exactly what you were doing.”
“I’m hoping that maybe stretching a little bit at Go Green, that most of you will look back and say, ‘That was one of the things that helped me make up my mind [to become a scientist or engineer],’” Stenger said. “Plus, we’re a little selfish and we hope that someday you’ll apply to Binghamton.”
David Whalen, vice president for governmental relations for Time Warner Cable, said he was thrilled that Time Warner could help sponsor Go Green as part of its Connect a Million Minds initiative. He recalled that, when he was in eighth grade, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge for the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. “He inspired us and told us we were a great nation capable of doing anything we set our minds to, and some of the work was done here right in the Southern Tier,” he said. “Forty-three years ago today, the Lunar module landed on the moon.
“Now we have a new challenge. We’ve fallen behind the rest of the world, but now we’re catching up. You’re the beginning of that. Your projects were fabulous and you can do anything you set your mind to,” Whalen said.
Go Green, sponsored by Binghamton University, Broome-Tioga BOCES, Time Warner Cable and the National Science Foundation, reaches out to middle-schoolers because they’re at the pinch point in the STEM pipeline said Jones. “They’re at the point where other things become important. There are more social activities to choose from and it may not be cool to be a nerd.
“Through their projects and other activities like the ‘question of the day’, these young people are given the opportunity to think more broadly about solving problems,” he said.