Inaugural StemForce program completed
For 26 students, the ability to complete the final year of the four-year StemForce Bahamas program was a relief, especially as the final year focused on The Bahamas with the intent of lifting the students’ vision to the future of The Bahamas and their potential roles in the country’s future.
The students spent five days on Andros learning about the geology and environment of The Bahamas. In addition, the students began to research the topic of sustainability.
At Forfar, a marine research field station, students learned about botany, marine biology and the geology of Andros Island.
They spent the first day looking at the sea cliffs on Morgan’s Bluff and caves – locations that provided the first exposure to the complex relationship between sea level and fresh water lenses, which leads to the formation of caves and blue holes, according to instructor Lauran Zahm.
“The afternoon was spent jumping into Charlie’s Blue Hole while the sky opened up and it poured rain. Outdoor activities are not for the weak; all the students braved the rain and jumped into the blue hole with enthusiasm,” she said.
A boat day comprised the second day, as one of the goals this year was to make a transect from the island interior to the offshore reefs that surround Andros, representing the third-largest barrier reef in the world. One of their activities was an island walk around Pigeon Cay during which the students observed the difference between the rocky shore of the windward side to the sandy shore of the leeward side.
The day also included students dissecting a goniolithon bunch and an examination of the invertebrates that call it home, and snorkeling over Dave’s Patch Reef and the blue hole at Blue Hole Cay, taking in the schools of fish, which was an activity many of the students engaged in for the first time as they had, had very little experience with swimming or snorkeling.
At the field station, the students were immersed into life at the station, including meal times and being conscientious about water use and minimizing waste.
They also took in lectures on invertebrate identification, the botany of the island with a mangrove walk, fisheries sustainability and a walk to Jungle Pond where mangroves are growing in the middle of the island, inside a collapsed blue hole.
For the final two days of the adventure, the students returned to New Providence where the focus was on exposing them to potential careers as they got to tour a number of companies and agencies, including LJM Maritime Academy, the Ministry of Environment and Housing, Bahamas Petroleum Company and Aliv, to expose them to different STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.
At each location students were able to speak to company officials to learn about career options and what college degrees employees had pursued.
“It has always been an idea of mine to join the maritime field ever since I became a part of the Bahamas Maritime Cadet Corps. I have visited the college on tours numerous times, however, the recent visit that I took as a student of StemForce Bahamas has solidified the idea,” said Nova Wright, a C. V. Bethel Senior High School graduate.
“The tour was both informative and exciting. We were informed of the many occupations affiliated with the maritime industry, and this is what essentially sparked my interest. I am intrigued by the navigation and deck mate sector of the college. In my opinion it is thrilling to hear of the college course that is offered to become a certified mariner. Before our visit I was always contemplating if this was really the career I wanted to pursue – now I am more certain that this industry is where my heart and desires will be satisfied,” she said.
Cheyanne Powell, a graduate of Anatol Rodgers High School, said during her tour of the Ministry of Environment and Housing, she learned about the importance of an education and obtaining a standard degree, as well as the importance of being passionate about what you do, and to not do it only for the money.
Kail’lyn Malcolm, a C.V. Bethel School graduate, found the presentations at the Bahamas Petroleum Oil Company enlightening as they learned about the way the company retrieves oil, along with discovering the cost of drilling a well.
Meanwhile Charity Sands, an R.M. Bailey Senior High School graduate, said she found the Aliv tour inspirational and meaningful.
“The highlight of this tour was being introduced to a variety of departments. I was astonished when the IT department introduced their new app to me. I was able to use my phone to scan a map, and information on various placed popped up,” said Sands.
“The students were amazed at what each location and career opportunity included,” said Zahm. “As we were walking through, one student exclaimed, ‘I could see myself working here!’”
As part of the learning and takeaways, each student gave a presentation on sustainability in The Bahamas, demonstrating what they had learned and what creative ideas they had for agriculture, resort management and addressing renewable energy for the future of The Bahamas.
Over four summers, the students in the program have taken STEM learning outside the four walls of the classroom to spectacular geological settings, with the final summer of the pilot program focused on The Bahamas and the Caribbean.
In addition to the field aspect of the program, students research and prepare a paper on the topic of renewable energy.
In 2017, their third year, the inaugural cohort visited the Pacific Northwest United States (Oregon and Washington State) to study plate tectonics and volcanology. They visited Mt. St. Helens, the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Newberry Caldera and made several stops along the Oregon coast.
In 2016, the students visited the Southwestern United States and Arizona, where they focused on stratigraphy while visiting Zion National Park, Checkerboard Mesa, Horseshoe Bend, Balanced Rock, The Grand Canyon, Yavapai Museum of Geology, South Kaibab Trail and Sunset Crater.
In 2015, their first year, the then group of ninth grade students studied sedimentary processes for six days in Austin, Texas, after spending three days on New Providence looking at beach processes and visiting sites.
“The first three years of the program focused on what we call the ‘wow’ portion of the program, and focused on expanding the students’ perspective of their world travel to spectacular geologic sites; reinforcing good habits and study skills; emphasizing geosciences and engineering; and giving the students the tools, confidence and motivation to achieve high school graduation and to purse college,” said Paul Gucwa who brought the program to The Bahamas.
The fourth and final year which brought them home to The Bahamas, Gucwa said, had the overarching theme to bring the focus back to The Bahamas and to focus the students on the future of the country and also to begin thinking about their roles in that future.
To be selected for the program, which was coordinated by Matt Hofer, students had to be high achievers in public schools, have an interest in math and science, maintain at least a B grade average, be recommended by a teacher and pen an essay.
They were recruited from public schools on three islands when they were in the eighth grade. Their four-year program was conceived as a pilot program to be expanded to additional Family Islands and students. The vision was to recruit 25 to 30 students each year and ultimately have about 100 students participating at various levels.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.