Fifth-Graders Find Science, Tech Careers ‘Electrifying’


St. Michael’s School Students Visit CSM for the Day, Invited to Enroll in 2016

“Light travels about 30 times back and forth from Maryland to California—in just one second,” said Jack Nial, an engineer working for the Navy in Indian Head.

Awe travels even faster.

The students from Melissa Molitor’s fifth-grade class at St. Michael’s School were visiting the College of Southern Maryland’s Leonardtown Campus May 1 to learn about careers in science and technology, when Nial planted one amazing fact after another into their heads.

Then he unveiled the props.

The students gathered around plasma balls, illuminating discs and whirling light string. Nial had them right where he wanted them. While the scientists saw a corona breakdown through an ionized channel, the students saw colorful electrical tentacles that moved from the core of the plasma ball to the spot where their fingers touched the outer globe surface.

“Now we’re going to raffle these off,” Nial told the students. Not only did some lucky students leave with large props, but every student walked away with some light source prize.

“We wanted to do what we could to get kids interested in science,” said Nial of his involvement with local Navy engineers Steve Smith and Shirley Delrosario, both from King George County, Va., Nial’s longtime friend, former boss and engineer Vince Hungerford of Charles County, and Nial’s wife Jean who donated her time driving the students to and from the event.

 “We wanted to take some of the dryness out of science and give the students a multi-sensory experience.”

 “This has been awesome. We never expected all this,” said Molitor of the math, physics and nursing exhibits, the gift bags and the lunch of pizza and subs.

“This is the best day of my life,” said Brady Hobbs, winner of a plasma ball.

Earlier in the day CSM Mathematics professors Steven Hundert, Charlie Walsh and Susan Strickland led the students through a hands-on graphing exercise that required the students to actively plot graphs using their own body’s motions.

“We projected a few graphs on a screen,” said Walsh. “With a program called Ranger and a motion detector plotting their every step, the students had to try to walk the identical graph line they saw displayed on the screen. If they did it perfectly, the graph line and the line their path made would create just one graph. It is very hard to do, and none of the students walked the graph line perfectly, but they had a fun time trying.”

The students also learned about graphing time and motion. Using a motion detector to follow a ball, the students could see that although the path of the ball could be straight up and down, the graph which incorporated time as an axis created a big arch, said Walsh. The students also participated in creating a bar graph by lining up according to spring, summer, fall or winter birthdates, and a pie chart by forming a chronological birthdate circle and using yarn to separate the seasons.

The afternoon nursing program provided the students with just as many exciting moments as they explored many of the college’s simulation models. They drained fluid from a simulated wound, checked patient heart rates, took the temperature of a nursing student and donned paper gowns, masks and latex gloves—with a little help.

Organized by CSM nursing professors Rose Miller, Annette Ragland and Gail Yearick the exercise was not only rewarding for the fifth-graders, but also for the CSM certified nursing assistant students who manned the different stations.

A day that began with welcoming remarks from CSM President Brad Gottfried ended with presentation of college acceptance certificates for the class of 2016 to each fifth-grader by Vice President of CSM Leonardtown Campus F. J. Talley. Some students accepted their awards while still wearing their yellow protective gowns and blue gloves from the nursing demonstrations.

“Events like these are possible because our faculty and our community place a high value on student excitement and success in science and technology,” said Talley. “Dr. Gottfried put the word out that CSM wanted to organize events such as this for Southern Maryland fifth-graders and our faculty and Jack [Nial]’s group stepped forward.”

CSM’s Leonardtown Campus plans to host science and technology events such as this for all county fifth-grade classes in the future.