Supporting student success: Programs for local youth see exponential growth

Nickie Shira, left, with the Malheur Education Service District, and Barbara Brody, Oregon State University Extension, write out their plans for their aviation, science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — program for the coming months at a conference room at the Ontario Municipal Airport on Wednesday.

ONTARIO — In the three years of having an aviation component as part of her 4-H program out at the Ontario Municipal Airport, Extension Agent Barbara Brody has seen about 90 participants. However, that number has grown since she joined forces with Nickie Shira, with the Malheur Education Service District’s Frontier STEM Hub. The number of participants now near 700. Shira is the STEM & Innovation Coordinator at the ESD

The two began working together in 2016.

“Every kid in Malheur County has a touch point [with aviation],” Brody said, noting her program began with the encouragement of Tom Frazier, fixed-base operator at the Ontario airport.

In 2018, the collaborative program of Brody and Shira received national honors from the National Association of Extension for 4-H Agents with the “excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Program Award and Excellence in Workforce Development.

“All seventh-graders are invited to the aviation field,” Brody said.

She said the program is now being replicated in John Day.

Currently, the Brody and Shira are preparing for their summer camp programs coming up this July. They include the Aerospace Career Exploration Academy and VEX Robotics Camp, both of which are for incoming eighth- and twelfth-graders; a makers camp for incoming fifth- and eighth-graders, focusing on designing and making a product; and a soft circuits camp (featuring wearable electronics) for incoming students in sixth through 12th grade. The career exploration academy will be held July 16-18 and the other three camps are set for July 23-25.

Another program, “Chief Science Officers, gives youth the opportunity to be directly involved in STEM programs as volunteers and mentors, providing a student voice and passion for science, technology, engineering and math. They are liasons to and advocates for the STEM programs, and they are elected by fellow students, according to a PowerPoint presentation.

There are opportunities to travel to leadership trainings, national conferences and an international summit in Washington, D.C.

Currently, there are 14 high school Chief Science Officers at Vale, Nyssa and Ontario high schools, along with adult advisers.

The collaboration with Brody’s OSU Extension program and Malheur ESD Frontier Hub brought together the resources to allow more students to participate, she said.

In addition to aviation, there is also a focus on health, as both were deemed as having a workforce need in the area by the local STEM advisory board. Board members represent business and industry, secondary education, school administrators and youth.

Other programs include the Lego League Robotics competition which is held at Treasure Valley Community College, and started in 2015/2016 with two teams. Three years later it had grown to 21 teams competing from a number of Malheur County Schools. In addition, there were several teams who participated but were not part of the competition.

But it is more than just students, the pair said.

The goal is of STEM programs is to support student success and whole families are encouraged to participate, Brody said.

“We want to sponsor STEM family night, a science family night,” Shira said.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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