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Students are participating in an 'Engineering Academy' after school this week.

What Linda Moholt and other team leaders like to call the "STEAM pipeline" in Tualatin runs right through Hazelbrook Middle School.

The intermediate grades between early elementary school and high school are a key piece of the puzzle — one that often is neglected — in engaging students with and preparing them for jobs in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, explained Moholt, who is chief executive officer of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce and one of the most enthusiastic boosters of the Tualatin STEAM Team.

"We equate this to a leaky pipeline," Moholt said. "By fifth grade, most students have already determined that they're not good at math, they're not good at science. So if we can get them excited in grade school, hold them in middle school and then get them really excited again in high school, our opportunity (exists) to get more people into this area for future jobs."

So Moholt was thrilled when students began taking their seats at tables in the Hazelbrook cafeteria after school Tuesday, Nov. 14, for the second in a monthly series of programs the STEAM Team is holding at the middle school. In October, Moholt said, they had six students. This Tuesday, they had 33.

"This is way beyond what we expected," Moholt said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Allen Song, left, and Daniel Bachhuber help sixth-graders Penelope Mandujano and Julie Halstad with a project at Hazelbrook Middle School. Song and Bachhuber, who are members of Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, volunteered for the after-school program.

'Engineering Academy' challenges students

Tuesday's event actually dovetailed with a four-day series of after-school "Engineering Academy" programs, which teacher Ann Schoblaske said are paid for by The Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools, a booster group. This week's theme for Engineering Academy is energy, so it matched up fairly well with the Makey Makey circuitry kits the STEAM Team is using at Hazelbrook this fall.

After Monday's activity explored the weeks-long power outages in Puerto Rico from an engineering standpoint, Schoblaske had her Engineering Academy students — many of whom, she noted, aren't even in the math classes she teaches at Hazelbrook — work with the Makey Makey kits Tuesday. Table groups figured out new, and often increasingly elaborate, ways to complete a circuit.

"They're just learning how to use these boards," Schoblaske said.

It helped, Moholt said, that the six students who participated in the STEAM Team's after-school program last month returned for the second session, so they were able to help teach their classmates (and sometimes the Chamber volunteers who were assisting them). Even still, the middle-schoolers were lightning-quick learners.

By midway through the freeform program, one table group had figured out how to play a piano app on a computer by hooking up the Makey Makey with a USB cable, scrawling crude "keys" on a piece of notebook paper, clipping circuit wires to the edges of the paper and tapping the drawn-on keys. (Pencil graphite is a conductor of electricity.) Another had fashioned a circuit that would have impressed Rube Goldberg, using everything from Play-Doh to pieces of fruit to human skin as conductors, in order to collaboratively play a simple computer game called "Run 3," using pieces of Play-Doh like buttons.

Some of the students who came to Tuesday's after-school program have taken an interest in working in a STEAM field after they graduate, like eighth-grader Sam Roach, who was responsible for the left and right directional inputs in "Run 3."

"I want to do this and figure out more about engineering," Sam said.

Others had less specific expectations.

"I just came because I thought it was going to be fun," said Aaliyah DeLaO, a seventh-grader in the piano group.

And was it?

"Yeah," Aaliyah said with a smile. She asked Schoblaske for a permission form to go on a field trip Thursday to Republic Services in Wilsonville, the capstone event for this week's Engineering Academy.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Eighth-graders Sam Roach, Ben Unis and Joe Leonard ground their bodies to complete a circuit during a STEAM program at Hazelbrook Middle School.

Local employers seek skilled workers

Moholt and Schoblaske were especially pleased to see so many girls in Tuesday's group; they made up about half the students who stayed after school to experiment with the Makey Makey kits. Seventh- and eighth-graders were also well-represented, even though Schoblaske said most after-school programs are dominated by sixth-graders.

Schoblaske is a civil engineer by trade. She got a master's degree in education and began teaching about 10 years ago, she said.

"When the whole STEM thing started rolling, I'm like, 'Yeah. Yeah. That's what we need,'" said Schoblaske, using an alternative acronym for the science, tech, engineering and math disciplines.

Schoblaske said her goal with this week's Engineering Academy is "to expose more kids to the curiosity and wonder of the engineering cycle."

Linda Moholt.With its large industrial area on the west end of town, Tualatin is home to many manufacturing and high-tech facilities.

"We have the great jobs in Tualatin, but we don't have the talent," Moholt said. "Many of the companies are actually going out of state, and some are even going out of the country, to gain the talent that they want, while our own kids are sitting here without the skills to fill them."

The STEAM Team is the successor to the coalition that backed Tualatin's application to America's Best Communities, a nationwide competition in which Tualatin was a finalist.

Although none of the three grand prizes awarded in April went to the Tualatin team, leaders like Moholt, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and Tualatin Public Library Manager Jerianne Thompson vowed to continue working to further the team's mission: getting more young people involved in STEAM and expanding access to groups that are underrepresented in STEAM fields, including girls and women, non-native English-speakers, and students from low-income households.

The library has continued to offer STEAM-oriented programming for all grade levels — this week alone, a LEGO workshop for first- through sixth-graders, "code club" for sixth- through 12th-graders, and a mini-movie-making class for fourth- through eighth-graders — and has added some new equipment to its inventory, like a 3D carving machine.

Also continuing to make appearances around town is the Tualatin Mobile Makerspace, a converted trailer that was the centerpiece of Tualatin's bid for a million-dollar award from America's Best Communities. Moholt said the brightly painted, instantly recognizable Mobile Makerspace has proven to have particular value in capturing families' attention and representing the STEAM Team's efforts at events like last month's West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

But even more critical have been outreach programs that sends "Maker" equipment like the Makey Makey kits into classrooms. That work started in local elementary schools last school year, and STEM and STEAM activities have been ongoing at Tualatin High School as well. Moholt is excited to bring them to the middle school level this year.

"This is tomorrow's workforce," Moholt marveled, looking around the Hazelbrook cafeteria Tuesday. "How amazing is that?"

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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