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STEM initiatives cross PCC campuses and disciplines at first-ever ‘Showcase’

Story by Deb Crawford. Photos by James Hill.

Portland Community College has been working on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives for years. With an increased national emphasis on STEM, as well as more grant opportunities for these disciplines, the need for documenting efforts is great. As a means toward creating a network for individuals working in STEM fields, as well as creating an inventory of what PCC is already doing, the STEM leaders group (created by the college’s Cabinet last spring) organized the college’s first-ever “STEM Showcase.”

"Brownie Bot" shows how powerful simple tablets can be at PCC's first-ever "STEM Showcase," held Oct. 21.

“Brownie Bot” shows how powerful simple tablets can be at PCC’s first-ever “STEM Showcase,” held Oct. 21.

The event took place Oct. 18 at the Rock Creek Event Center, and faculty, staff, students and community partners were invited to show what they were doing, to network and brainstorm where PCC should go from here.

Dieterich Steinmetz, division dean of science and engineering at the Sylvania campus, was the point person for the team that coordinated the event.

“We wanted a venue for people to exchange information and to increase awareness about the innovative projects already going on at PCC,” said Steinmetz.  “There are STEM clubs, programs and projects that cross disciplines, departments and campuses.”

Educating students in STEM areas, even if they are majoring in a subject outside of science, technology, engineering or math, provides them with skills they need to be employable in today’s job market.  “All students should have the opportunity to be exposed to STEM studies because they lead to excellent career opportunities,” said Steinmetz.  “Employers in Oregon often need to recruit graduates from out-of-state colleges because we cannot graduate enough STEM students to meet the demand.”

The workshop highlighted programs and efforts that are not always thought of as part of STEM. Erin Stanforth, the college’s sustainability coordinator, showcased the relationship between sustainability efforts around PCC and STEM.

“Sustainability is infused into all disciplines and can be used for educational purposes in living, learning lab development that already exists at PCC,” said Stanforth. “The bond construction at Southeast, the solar panels at Rock Creek, the bike rental stations at Cascade and the learning garden at Sylvania all provide opportunities to engage students in real life application of STEM disciplines.”

Art was another theme throughout the workshop that is often not thought of as being related to STEM. However, many groups highlighted the critical role that design plays in real world applications and development of new products.

Once such group is the new +STEAM student club created by students who attended the Intel Ultimate Engineering Experience (IUEE) camp held at Rock Creek campus over the summer. From that camp, many students participated in a Build-a-Bot art class held at Sylvania campus in August that required students to build a robot, write a play and program the robots to act in the play. After the class ended, four highly motivated and creative students set out to create a district wide club: +STEAM (which incorporates art and business into the original STEM).

“The club really has three purposes,” said Eric Thomas, a Rock Creek engineering student and one of the four founding members of the club.  “We have a competitive projects component where students will be in teams with at least five other students, all from different disciplines, and create an app for smart phones, then create a 3D piece of art, and finally a robot.”

The second goal is to provide workshops to students and staff around STEM. The third goal is around outreach to groups that have previously been underrepresented in STEM fields.

“We want to focus on reaching minority populations and girls and show them how fun and exciting science, technology, engineering and math can really be through projects like building robots,” said Ryan Barker, a Sylvania engineering student and another founding member of the student club. One partnership they’ve already made is with Bridge Meadows, a non-profit organization that works with siblings in the foster system.

Another exciting announcement from the workshop was a review of the new PCC STEM Center that will be housed at the Southeast Center beginning January 2014. Susanne Christopher, department chair of science at Southeast Center, has been heading up much of the efforts around getting the center up and running.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity because it provides a tangible presence to represent what is going on campus-wide,” said Christopher. “It shows the commitment that PCC has made in further efforts to support STEM programs and projects.”

As part of the center, there will be a Science on Display room that allows students and staff to view projects and displays, similar to set-ups at OMSI.

Overall, the workshop was a great success with more than 130 engaged and passionate people in attendance. After networking and presentations, the group moved into work mode and set out to brainstorm where PCC should go from here. Birgitte Ryslinge, Rock Creek’s interim president, reviewed the seven STEM strategies that the college will use moving forward in an effort to track and measure initiatives, as well as provide a framework for STEM at PCC. It is clear that STEM will only continue to get stronger and gain more of a presence at PCC.

For more information about STEM at PCC or to contribute to the inventory of current efforts and existing partnerships, contact Dieterich Steinmetz at


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x by Burke Thornburg 3 years ago

This will be cool…. see that STEM folks get a tour of the Evergreen Air Museum, and their hands on displays. The magnetic oil was unexpected.


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