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Students at Clara Barton Elementary School participate in the “Simple Circuits” activity to learn about the concept of electricity.
NETL Brings Science & Engineering to Regional Classrooms

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, PhD.

School is back in session, and teachers and students are not the only ones returning to the classrooms. NETL’s K-12 STEM Education & Outreach professionals are also going back to school — and bringing exciting “hands-on, minds-on” activities with them.

NETL is committed to preparing the next generation of energy researchers, and we maintain a robust educational outreach program that reaches out to students from kindergarten through post-graduate levels. Research projects take years, even decades, and it’s important to grow our pool of expertise to ensure that our labs have the talented people needed to continue our work for America’s secure energy future.

Regardless of a student’s eventual career path, the future workforce will require technical skills and strong backgrounds in math and science. As one of our nation’s distinctive national labs, NETL takes seriously its obligation to ensure regional students are afforded early opportunities to value STEM and excel in their chosen fields.

NETL’s K-12 STEM Education & Outreach team offers STEM-focused programs to elementary and middle school classrooms in the regions surrounding Pittsburgh; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Albany, Oregon. These fascinating STEM presentations complement and enhance schools’ existing STEM curricula, cultivate children’s thinking skills and develop early positive attitudes about STEM topics.

Activities like “Mystery Arch-itecture,” “Simple Circuits” and “Roller Coaster” focus on engineering, the design process, problem solving and collaboration while demonstrating concepts like electricity and kinetic energy. Another activity called “Tiny Worlds” uses microscopes to demonstrate observation and technology. These are just a few examples of the engaging programs our outreach team developed to make learning fun and impactful.

Our team developed many activities for elementary students because it’s the perfect time to inspire children to pursue science studies. However, NETL’s outreach activities are not limited to early grades. At the upper middle and high school levels, when students further develop their interest in STEM and start thinking about careers, NETL researchers are available to discuss more complex energy topics and the multiple dynamic pathways that can lead to STEM careers. Recent activities include presentations at job fairs, serving as judges for local academic competitions, and presenting at events such as science Olympiads.

In Pittsburgh and Morgantown, our K-12 STEM Education & Outreach team works with teachers, principals and other administrators to tailor programs that will meet schools’ needs and interests. Teachers interested in having the NETL K-12 STEM Education and Outreach Team visit and work with their students can request a school program by completing and submitting the K-12 STEM Education Outreach Form.   

In Albany, our STEM outreach experts offer a robust assortment of engagement activities. Lab tours offer regional university employees and students the chance to see firsthand the cutting-edge research conducted by NETL scientists while learning about internships and other opportunities. Recent events also include participation in Periwinkle Elementary School’s annual Science Night, where students and their families do activities and watch demos put on by science-centered community partners and agencies. NETL staff also engaged regional undergraduate and graduate students at Oregon State University career fairs, providing more than 250 students with opportunities to network and investigate internships and employment opportunities. 

As part of our K-12 outreach work, NETL researchers volunteer as STEM Ambassadors to share their enthusiasm for science and engineering. Past efforts include researchers hosting STEM demonstrations at regional science- and engineering-related festivals and events, visiting local schools to share career information and attending networking opportunities to connect students with alumni, professionals and community partners. Recent examples include presentations at the Oregon State University Natural Science and Environmental Career Fair, West Virginia University Industry Speaker Series and judging at the Pittsburgh Science and Engineering Fair.

NETL STEM Ambassadors are a great asset to our Lab — and our community — and their efforts serve to inspire and educate the next generation of researchers, engineers and scientists who will one day work to boost the nation’s energy independence through technological solutions.  

As the poet William Butler Yeats noted, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” As NETL continues in its mission — to discover, integrate and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations — we’re also sparking inspiration for tomorrow’s innovators.