Grand Valley engages community in STEM

Virtual lectures are available to the general public and cover diverse topics.
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Grand Valley State University has found another way to invest in the community.

The university recently launched a free virtual learning series called Grand Morsels. The series is hosted by the Regional Math and Science Center (RMS) at GVSU. 

Kris Pachla. Courtesy Grand Valley State University

Kris Pachla, director of RMS, said the vision of the center is to inspire and engage everyone in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and the virtual series is an outreach to the community.

“This works toward our vision of really engaging community members and looking for how we might be able to elevate those connections between GVSU science faculty and the community,” he said.

Pachla said the premise behind Grand Morsels is providing opportunities to take big scientific concepts and break them down into bite-sized morsels.

“We have worked with our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty to identify topics of interest and topics of expertise that they can work on (and give) about a 30-minute presentation in the virtual space with a 15-minute question and answer session at the end from the community,” he said. “We invite the community. We invite K-12 teachers. We invite K-12 students to come into the conversation and just learn some more about something that is related to the idea that STEM and science are everywhere.”

GVSU students also can participate in the series by listening and asking questions. Since the series began in January, there have been two lectures. Two more remain for the spring semester.

GVSU faculty have tackled various scientific topics during their presentations. The program in February was “Human Impacts on the Environment — The View from Archaeology and The Past,” by Elizabeth Arnold, associate professor in the anthropology department at GVSU. 

The lecture presentation in January was “Talking Through the Air: The Science of Wireless Communication,” by associate professor Len O’Kelly from GVSU’s School of Communications.

“Dr. Len O’Kelly was our inaugural Grand Morsel presenter,” Pachla said. “He presented about the history of radio and the history of the AM versus FM and the ways in which the radio has evolved over the course of time. It was a really engaging presentation. Our second presentation was Dr. Elizabeth Arnold. She presented from an anthropology perspective about how anthropology sees the world around us differently than other social and hard sciences.”

In addition to keeping the community informed, Richard Besel, professor and director of the School of Communications at GVSU, said it allows K-12 teachers to stay updated with the latest information in the sciences and as a result, make teaching adjustments in their classrooms with the new information.

“How they incorporate the information is up to them, but the idea is to keep the teachers up to date in terms of what’s happening with experts in certain fields,” he said. “The last time we had, for example, someone from the anthropology department, an environmental archaeologist, talking about some of the things that she has done on dig sites. There was a lot of really interesting information there. She was talking about how things in her field have changed. That is something that K-12 teachers might not get all the time and so they can introduce those concepts into their classroom. It gives them another opportunity to find additional resources.”

Teachers also can receive 0.75 State Continuing Education Clock Hours after completing the lecture series in April. SCECH allows educators to keep their teaching certificates up to date.

The lectures are recorded and are available on GVSU Regional Math and Science Center’s website.

“Hopefully, the audience members actually end up learning some new concepts from these presentations,” Besel said. “You have these experts in their fields, and this is an opportunity for them to reach out to new audiences so, hopefully, audience members get to learn new things about science and how it functions. The experts have an opportunity now to talk to a new audience they would otherwise not communicate with. Professors are in the classroom talking to their students on campus, but this gives them the opportunity, those same professors, to reach out and give back to the community.”

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