UNH has many thumbprints across New Hampshire in places where the university has made or is making an impact on the state and its people. Many of the newest thumbprints have come as a result of STEMbassadors, the three-year-old program that brings some of the university’s greatest minds into the Granite State’s K-12 schools to help spark students’ excitement about math, science, engineering and technology — the so-called STEM topics.
In the schools, STEMbassadors — students from all nine departments in the UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences — run hands-on STEM activities, such as designing derby cars and racing them down a ramp, building wind turbines and measuring their electric output, designing theme park rides or figuring out how to clean up a simulated oil spill.
It’s the kind of stuff younger students can get excited about, and since the program’s inception in 2015, STEMbassadors have reached more than 13,000 students in all 10 New Hampshire counties.
“We’ll have reached 15,000 by the end of this semester,” says Brooks Payette ‘12, who created and oversees the program. “We’re doing about two dozen events per semester, plus two weekend STEMfest events where students from multiple schools gather on a Saturday.”
Payette says the program’s secret sauce is the interaction between the schoolchildren and the college students. “That’s what gets kids excited,” he says, adding that demand from schools has been “huge,” and he’s working to expand the program’s reach by building its activities into a standardized curriculum that schools can use after the STEMbassadors leave.
“Integrating what we do into schools’ curriculums ensures our impact goes beyond one visit and better fulfills their needs,” he says.
The program is funded entirely by donations from individuals and companies that contribute to the college. Payette says the greatest expense for the program is transportation, and the group hopes to raise enough money to purchase a van soon.
“I know of no other university that is reaching this many kids statewide in this way,” Payette says. “We’re going to kids where they are, and we’re doing it at no cost to the schools and on a limited budget.”