Role models spark curiosity for 250 students

Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories partner for STEM Day at Cochiti

By David Moore | June 22, 2024

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Employees from the Laboratory’s facilities and operations directorate showcased some of the drones they use in their mapping and construction planning work.

May 17 wasn’t an average day at Cochiti Elementary School in Peña Blanca. In some classrooms there was expectant chatter as students asked visitors questions about birds or aquatic insects, while others were empty as their normal occupants were outside sending stomp rockets high into the sky. On another part of the field, drones were taking off and landing to cheers from children, who then gathered close to explore the devices.

All this activity was the second annual STEM Day at Cochiti, which saw volunteers from Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and the nonprofit Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) offer a range of hands-on STEM activities and presentations to around 250 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

Empowering students to explore

“I firmly believe that such experiences plant seeds in students' minds, sparking curiosity and igniting a passion for exploration,” says Tessa Montoya, computer science teacher at the school and organizer of the event. “By offering opportunities that extend beyond the confines of textbooks, we are empowering students to discover their interests and talents in unexpected places.”

These opportunities included making the rockets they launched, exploring the range of birds native to the area with Los Alamos biologists, and trying hands-on engineering challenges with educators from the Laboratory’s Bradbury Science Museum.

In one of the classrooms, Dorianis Perez, a Laboratory graduate research assistant, gave a career talk on the importance of studying wildfires, and how she works with computer simulations to better understand fire behavior.

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“As a Latina scientist who comes from an underserved community, I’m always looking for opportunities to talk to youth all around Northern New Mexico,” she says. “If just one student walks away with curiosity that wasn’t there before hearing my talk, then I have served my purpose!”

Teacher Tessa Montoya is clear that Perez’s goal was achieved. “Seeing the enjoyment on all of my students' faces as they were learning from role models who may have grown up just like them, in small towns or native communities, was truly inspiring,” she says. “In those moments, I heard them say, ‘This can be me when I'm an adult.’”