2017 Westar Energy STEM Innovative Curriculum Grant Awards Announced

Westar Energy, in cooperation with the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas State Department of Education, announces recipients of the third annual Westar Energy STEM Innovative Curriculum grants.

Each project receives a $3,000 grant from Westar Energy aimed at increasing student interest and academic achievement in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines as applied to electrical energy. A focus on expanding the diversity of students involved in STEM education is of particular interest in the grant program.

Westar Energy’s Jerl Banning, senior vice-president, operations support and administration, said the project is exactly on track to meet the company’s identified objectives for continuing to fund the grants.

“The selected projects will provide students with hands-on experiences and the opportunity to explore a variety of STEM-related fields,” Banning noted. “Each project also specifically addresses the need to encourage more diversity in both the study of STEM subjects and in those pursuing careers in renewable and sustainable energy production. We have been delighted with the outcome from past projects, and look forward to seeing what the students and staff accomplish this year.”

The awards were developed through a partnership between Westar Energy, Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) and Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE). Kansas K-12 public schools are eligible to submit proposals, and each submission must include a budget, measurable goals and the link or links to state standards. A committee composed of personnel from the sponsoring organizations selects the winning applicants.

“The STEM curriculum grant program is an excellent example of how to expand opportunities for students,” said Dr. John Heim, KASB executive director. “The hands-on experiences and career exploration made possible by Westar Energy’s commitment opens up limitless possibilities for the future for many students in Kansas schools today.”

As part of the grant program, recipients will present their projects during a session of the annual KASB conference in Wichita in December 2017. They must also provide a written summary with samples of class work and photographs to Westar Energy and KASB.

2017 Westar Energy STEM Innovative Curriculum Grant recipients/projects include:

STEM Pals: An Intergenerational Learning Partnership, Lincoln Elementary School, Hays USD 489, Hays, Kansas. Monica Dreiling, 5th Grade Teacher, Elaine Rohleder, Principal. Fifth grade students will explore electrical engineering and sustainability concepts by developing projects and conducting experiments under the mentorship (via monthly meetings) of residents with interest/expertise at a local assisted living/nursing home facility. The projects will include designing pencil box alarm circuits, solar cookers, hot air balloons, Bess Beetle penny pulls, electric boats to race in water, and holiday trees made from circuits for their intergenerational team members to display in resident rooms. Students will also explore global environmental challenges. Projects will include using solar cells to create a seven-inch house and a solar panel system that collects, stores, and uses solar energy; creating and building a working solar still to desalinate water to address water shortages; and building a testing a working oil containment boom to clean up an oil spill. As part of their assessment, students will create digital portfolios with project plans, photographs and presentations describing the learning process. These will be shared with peers, younger students, families, other community members, and their intergenerational pals. 

Ascent: STEM Outreach for Underrepresented Minorities, Lawrence Free State High School, Lawrence USD 497, Lawrence, Kansas. Julie Schwarting and Sandhya Ravikumar. This project funds research and engineering projects for the new Ascent outreach project designed for underrepresented groups in the study of science, technology engineering and math and related careers. Students will study the science behind clean energy innovation and design a 1000-watt wind turbine for Lawrence Free State High School. The students will be responsible for gathering data and evaluating the ideal location for installation, then build the turbine and connect it to an outdoor commons area/charging station. Demonstrations of the project will be given to the district’s kindergarten through eighth grade students. Three key objectives of the program are increasing exposure of underrepresented minorities to STEM fields and encouraging entrance into STEM-related post-secondary education; providing educational support for minority students, including special programs, tutoring, networking, and research projects in energy development and conservation; and expanding career counselling for students who face inequalities in entering research/development programs for topics such as climate change research and clean energy innovation.

Three key objectives of the program are increasing exposure of underrepresented minorities to STEM fields and encouraging entrance into STEM-related post-secondary education; providing educational support for minority students, including special programs, tutoring, networking, and research projects in energy development and conservation; and expanding career counselling for students who face inequalities in entering research/development programs for topics such as climate change research and clean energy innovation.

Lighting the River, Eileen Caspers, director of school and career programs, Topeka USD 501, Topeka, Kansas. Students enrolled in the Topeka Public Schools STEM Energy pathway will research and design lighting for the soon-to-be constructed Oregon Trail, a part of the Kansas River Restoration Project in Topeka. A specific goal of the program and the STEM Energy pathway is to increase enrollment of females and ethnic minority students in this area of study. The Kansas River Restoration Project is a community-wide initiative with participation by City of Topeka, Shawnee County, the State of Kansas, the Topeka-Shawnee County River Front Authority, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, the Topeka Housing Authority and Heartland Visioning. The students will join the project committee and participate in the Riverfront Authority Park Development process by proposing their ideas of alternative energy forms for lighting of the Oregon Trail Park.

The alternative energy forms of lighting to be considered will consist of wind, solar, and/or hydroelectric power to energize the lighting sources throughout the park as outlined by the technicians. Research will be conducted by a team of students on alternative forms of energy, producing viable options for the park committee to consider for meeting requirements for development of the park.

 

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