PAL gets big STEM grant

Published 8:16 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Beaufort County Police Activities League has been awarded a $161,000 grant, one that will fund three years of afterschool Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programming for the county’s youth.

According to Alvin Powell, PAL president, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Student Science Enrichment Program grant is the first of its kind awarded in Beaufort County. The grant will pay for a one-month summer program, as well as an eight-month long, two days a week, afterschool program each year for the next three years.

Those who will be invited to join the program must fall into unique set of criteria, Powell said.

“Students must be in middle school and live in property owned by the Washington Housing Authority (WHA),” Powell wrote in a press release. “The program will have the capacity to handle only 14 to 16 students who must agree to remain in the program the entire year.”

Powell said PAL would be coordinating with WHA personnel, holding a series of community center meetings to introduce and encourage students’ participation in the yearlong program.

For Powell, the purpose is to expose children to what could be early training for potential career options — children who normally wouldn’t have access to hands-on experience with aviation, robotics, marine ecology and boating, industrial technology.

“The objective of this project is to cultivate the students’ enthusiasm for science and mathematics utilizing methods of transportation as the intellectual ‘bait,’” Powell said in the release. “The project also demonstrates to the youth the real-world relevancy/application of selected scientific principles.”

The program will consist of four learning modules — the first is “life-skills,” which will introduce participants to ethics, tools they need to make good life-decisions, and how to surround themselves with those who uplift them. The robotics module involves the construction of increasingly challenging robotics kits, an introduction to industrial applications robotic system and competition in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition. Weather systems, navigation and the history of flight will be tackled in an aviation component, capped off by flying remote control airplanes and piloting first a simulator, then an actual airplane. The final module, boating, will incorporate marine ecology, an introduction to the scientific principles of boating and boating safety.

Through partnerships with Elizabeth State University, East Carolina University, Beaufort County Community College, and other organizations, like the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and local law enforcement, the activities for the next three years are part of the PAL mission: educating youth in the importance of STEM, while improving the relationship between local youth, the community and law enforcement.

Powell said competition for the funding from Burroughs Wellcome Foundation was stiff: 87 proposals were submitted from North Carolina. Only 13 were accepted. According to the biomedical research company’s foundation website, projects under the SSEP must seek to attain three goals through hands-on activities: improving students’ competence in science and mathematics; nurturing student enthusiasm for science and mathematics; and interesting students in pursuing careers in research or other science-related areas. Since the Student Science Enrichment Program’s start, the foundation has awarded 188 grants totaling $27.3 million to fund STEM activities for North Carolina children.