Belhaven University in Jackson Mississippi recently hosted a symposium entitled “STEM Education in Mississippi: Issues and Innovations” on September 29, 2017. The symposium was sponsored by a first of its kind partnership between the regional SENCER Centers for Innovation South and Southwest, and the Mississippi Section of the American Chemical Society. The program included presentations by respected members of the SENCER community including Cathy Middlecamp as keynote, Karen Oates and Stephen Carroll as plenary speakers, and a personal testimonial from recent TWU graduate Courtney Johnson. The symposium also included a series of concurrent sessions with presentations by Reid Bishop (Belhaven University), Garon Smith (University of Montana, retired), Cynthia Maguire (Texas Woman’s University), Dick Sheardy (Texas Woman’s University), Nasrin Kohan (Texas Woman’s University), Tom Wood (George Mason University), Steven Bachofer (St. Mary’s College of California), and Susan Reiser (UNC Asheville).
Attendees of the meeting included formal science educators from universities, community colleges, high schools, and elementary schools from across the state of Mississippi. Schools in attendance included the University of Mississippi, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi State University, Delta State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi College, Millsaps College, Mississippi Valley State University, Hinds Community College, Holmes Community College, Gulf Coast Community College, as well as members of the Jackson Public Schools and the local home school community.
This symposium also used a “round table” format to facilitate networking among participants. Community partners and SENCER facilitators paired up and sat together at tables around the room while the rest of the participants rotated to tables of their choice for four 10-minute rounds of conversation. The purpose was to identify local and regional issues of civic importance and develop innovative solutions for those issues in collaboration with students. In this way, the symposium also facilitated a local learning network. Community partners in attendance included representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, Raytheon, the University of Mississippi Medical Center Department of Family Medicine, the Millsaps College Keck Laboratory, the Jackson Zoological Society, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Mississippi, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, and the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee.
In addition, local Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) chapters from several universities assembled at Belhaven University for the first annual joint meeting. Student leaders of these organizations met to discuss collaborative projects and self-organized a committee to apply for grant funding from the American Chemical Society to support events with mutual benefits.
The highlight of the evening was a Wizard Show provided by Garon Smith (G Wiz) and Cynthia Maguire (Mistress of Potions). Over 150 students and kids of all ages were treated to a show of theatrical, poetic, and scientific values. After the grand finale, which involved an exploding volcano, attendees ate dinner together and were treated to the keynote address by Dr. Cathy Middlecamp of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cathy, a historic Presbyterian with newly discovered Scottish heritage was escorted to and from the podium by Belhaven University’s resident bagpiper, Mr. Jim Goode. On the day following the meeting, the speakers canoed on the Mississippi River near Natchez thanks to the Quapaw Canoe Company.
The symposium received positive media attention from members of the press representing the Clarion Ledger and the Jackson Free Press, as well as several radio and television stations that conducted broadcast interviews.
Photograph courtesy of Belhaven University